senior couple sitting by lake senior couple sitting by lake If you're 60 and over, your brain may work differently depending on the time of year, according to a new study. (Photo: Ruslan Guzov/Shutterstock)

Are you smarter in the fall? New study says brain power fluctuates by season

Researchers find a seasonal pattern in cognitive activity that peaks around the beginning of autumn.

When a mother-to-be forgets her wallet at the grocery store, she often attributes the mishap to a common condition called "pregnancy brain."

She knows – and so do we – that this is not an actual diagnosed disorder. But she's noticed that her brain just doesn't seem to be working as well as it should.

Well, according to a new study conducted by researchers from the U.S., Canada, France and Israel, we may have a few more so-called "brains" to name: winter, spring, summer and fall brains to be exact.

Researchers found a seasonal component to cognitive activity in people aged 60 and up, noting a peak in brain power between late summer and early autumn. The effect is so significant that some of the participants in the study dipped into the threshold for dementia when they were tested in winter or spring.

Man drawing brain on mirror The results could affect clinical trials in neurology, the researchers said. (Photo: Bangkokhappiness / Shutterstock)

The team of scientists included Andrew Lim, a neurologist at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre at the University of Toronto in Canada; Aron Buchman, who studied at Loyola University, Chicago Medical School and the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel; and Philip de Jager of the Department of Neurology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York. They analyzed data from 3,500 participants who took tests of their thinking and concentration skills. For some participants, the researchers also looked at levels of proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

They found a 30 percent greater chance of meeting diagnostic criteria for mild cognitive impairment or dementia if cognitive tests are carried out in the winter months. “The difference in performance was enough to impact the clinical impression of what diagnostic category a patient was going to be in,” Lim said.

The team could only speculate on the cause of such a change. Light, temperature, the body's hormone levels or vitamin D consumption could be to blame, Lim said. But on the bright side, the study opens up the possibility that "good cognition" could be extended beyond that peak time to prevent or slow the onset of Alzheimer's disease.

"It’s something we’re keen to look into,” Lim said.

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Are you smarter in the fall? New study says brain power fluctuates by season
Researchers find a seasonal pattern in cognitive activity that peaks around the beginning of autumn.