The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Terminal Cognitive Decline and Death.

However long a life one might live, at some point, it comes to an end. Yet, what happens in those twilight years? Do people generally maintain their mental function to the end - or does cognitive function give some indication of the future to come?

A phenomenon has been observed: that of terminal cognitive decline. This means that aged people often undergo a sudden rapid increase in their rate of cognitive decline shortly before death. This can, therefore, be used as a signal for when the "time is near".

A paper, "Terminal decline in cognitive function" by R. S. Wilson, PhD, L. A. Beckett, PhD, J. L. Bienias, ScD, D. A. Evans, MD and D. A. Bennett, MD addresses this issue.

763 Roman Catholic nuns, priests and brothers participated in the study. They were given an array of 19 different tests of cognitive function an average of 5.6 times a year, to track changes in their mental state. At the start of the study, none of them were demented. The data set obtained was used to find the point at which the rate of decline of mental function suddenly accelerated.

The shocking (for me) observation was that there was a SIX-FOLD increase in the rate of mental decline, an average of 43 months prior to death. 122 of the participants died in the period of the study and their mental function in the years leading up to their deaths informs the conclusions.

The ones who died had lower cognitive function at the outset than those who survived. The survivors, interestingly, showed almost NO DECLINE in mental function. (Thus giving us hope that such a loss of mind is not inevitable). Almost all of those who died showed the accelerated cognitive decline prior to death.

Declines in a very wide range of mental functions were observed in the 3 to 6 years leading up to the deaths. These included degradation of episodic memory, semantic memory, working memory, perceptual speed, and visuospatial ability.

So, if you have an elderly relative who is showing signs of rapid mental decline, it is, probably, wise to spend more time with them - for there is likely to be little time left. Remember the mean time to death from the onset of rapid mental decline, in this study, was only 43 months.

Sadly, the same, of course, applies to ourselves. If we begin to show rapid mental decline it is time to set our affairs in order, as best may be. The loss of mind is a sign of a greater loss to come, in the near future.

Take care all.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and five months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and ten months, and Tiarnan, twenty-seven months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, wunderkind, wonderkind, genio, гений ребенок prodigy, genie, μεγαλοφυία θαύμα παιδιών, bambino, kind)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 11:18 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sure, set your affairs in order, but maybe the time for action needs to be earlier. A study (Wilson et al., 2002) found that the relative risk of developing AD decreases by 33% for each 1 point increase in composite measures of cognitive activity (controlling for age, sex and education). This cognitive activity was measured by looking at time spent in common activities, like reading newspapers, things that involve information processing. So the possibility exists that by keeping yourself mentally fit, you can help ward off some of the effects of dementia... it's not all preordained by genetics. Might be hard to get your old folks to do crossword puzzles, but no reason not to start yourself!

8:09 PM  

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