By Ian Stuart-Hamilton

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Thus, at Session 2, the 50-year-old group is now 57, the 57-year-old group is now 64, and so forth. g. the people who are 71 at Session 2 can be compared with their 64-year-old selves at Session 1). 1 - A conceptual table illustrating the overlapping longitudinal study Session 1 Session 2 Session 3 Session 4 Session 5 Cohort 1 50 57 64 71 78 Cohort 2 57 64 71 78 85 Cohort 3 64 71 78 85 92 Cohort 4 71 78 85 92 99 MEASURING INTELLECTUAL CHANGE IN LATER LIFE / 51 However, there are further advantages to the overlapping longitudinal method beyond simply combining cross-sectional and longitudinal methods.

Seated above and overlapping the other three segments is the cerebral cortex (often simply called the ‘cortex’), the wrinkled ‘top’ of the brain. Generally, the further a structure is away from the spinal cord, the more sophisticated its functions. The brain stem is chiefly concerned with the maintenance of ‘life support’ mechanisms, such as control of blood pressure, digestion, respiration, and so forth. It also receives inputs from the senses and channels them through to other systems in the brain.

One possible cause is decreased cerebral blood flow, leading to neurons starving of oxygen and thus dying. However, Hunziker et al. (1978) demonstrated that changes in cerebral blood supply seem to be an adjustment to a decline in the number of neurons rather than vice versa. Another explanation is that many older people suffer from miniature strokes or infarcts, where a minute portion of the brain atrophies because of the demise of the local blood supply. The older person is unaware of this happening, and it is worth stressing that usually the number of infarcts is small, and can be regarded as symptomatic of normal ageing.

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