A difference in the coding pattern of a single gene affects the rate of mental decline in men, a new study claims.
Researchers at Stanford University tested the skills of experienced airline pilots and found that having one version of the gene versus the other doubled the rate at which performance declined over time.
Dr Ahmad Salehi, lead researcher on the study, stated: "This gene-associated difference may apply not only to pilots but also to the general public, for example in the ability to operate complex machinery."
The genetic variation implicated in the study has been linked in previous studies to several psychiatric disorders but Mr Salehi's study is the first to demonstrate its implications for task performance and mental degeneration.
In February 2011 research claimed that the way that parts of the brain connect with each other can explain why people experience cognitive decline in old age.
Australian researchers at the University of South Wales maintained that the brain operates as a highly interconnected small-world network, not as a collection of discrete regions as previously thought.
The efficiency of these networks is claimed to effect age-related mental decline.
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