The Daily Telegraph brings welcome news -- "Old age begins at 27 as mental powers start to decline, scientists find." It seems that the University of Virginia conducted mental acuity tests on 2,000 adults over the course of seven years. The results: Your steel-trap brain is at its best around the age of 22. By the time 27 rolls around, you've already begun to depreciate.
Those of us who are well past 27 can smile smugly as the younger set takes in the fact of its relative senescence. A 30-year-old may feel pretty immune to the ravages of time, but aha! we now know that he or she is taking just a smidge longer to factor those square roots than someone fresh from college.
As someone who got her first gray hair at the age of 24, I've always been unusually conscious of time passing. This needn't be morbid. My junior high school French teacher had a sign on her desk that read "Wasted time is wasted life." Bearing that in mind can make you crazy or it can make you productive. It may have made me a bit of both.
Study or no study, most 27-year-olds will not perceive their creeping decrepitude. That comes later. About age 45, most adults notice big things, like their vision deteriorating. "It's the age when your arms get shorter," explained an ophthalmologist. I don't mind this. Before I had Lasik surgery I wore glasses anyway. It's not such a shock to need readers -- though vanity forbids doing the only sane thing, which is wearing them on a chain around your neck. I'd rather leave a pair in each room and spend time patting piles of papers in search of missing ones than look like Marion the Librarian.
I have forgotten the names of friends' spouses and children hundreds of times. I now understand why my parents had so many acquaintances called "whatshisname." Big social occasions become gauntlets as people whose names I've forgotten greet me by mine. When I do remember someone's name I sing it out proudly -- and then later cringe at the thought that I may have gotten it wrong anyway. I wish I could wear a sign around my neck at times like these. It would say roughly the following: "Please don't take it personally that I cannot remember your name. I can list the last several articles you've written that I particularly enjoyed or the talk you gave at whatever that was broadcast on C-SPAN. But names are my nemesis!"
So fear not. While the mental decline may begin at 23, the serenity kicks in later.