Introduction: Age-associated cognitive decline-or normal (non-pathological, normative, usual) cognitive ageing-is an important human experience which differs in extent between individuals. The determinants of the differences in age-related cognitive decline are not fully understood. Progress in the field is taking place across many areas of biomedical and psychosocial sciences.
Areas of agreement and controversy: The phenotype of normal cognitive ageing is well described. Some mental capabilities are well maintained into old age. From early adulthood, there are declines in mental domains such as processing speed, reasoning, memory and executive functions, some of which is underpinned by a decline in a general cognitive factor. There are contributions to understanding individual differences in normal cognitive ageing from genetics, general health and medical disorders such as atherosclerotic disease, biological processes such as inflammation, neurobiological changes, diet and lifestyle. Many of these effect sizes are small; some are poorly replicated; and in some cases, there is the possibility of reverse causation, with prior cognitive ability causing the supposed 'cause' of cognitive ability in old age.
Emerging areas for developing research: Genome-wide scans are a likely source to establish genetic contributions. The role of vascular factors in cognitive ageing is increasingly studied and understood. The same applies to diet, biomarkers such as inflammation and lifestyle factors such as exercise. There are marked advances in brain imaging, affording better in vivo studies of brain correlates of cognitive changes. There is growing appreciation that factors affecting general bodily ageing also influence cognitive functions in old age.