Cognitive Decline and a Biblical Decree


Elderly people without dementia show patterns of cognitive decline in the years prior to death, a new study published in Neurology magazine indicates.1 This sheds some interesting light on a particular passage in Genesis.

Two hundred eighty-eight people without dementia who were born between the years of 1901 and 1902 participated in the study, and the results did not demonstrate the kinds of generalized decay that are usually associated with aging. “We found accelerated changes in people’s mental skills that indicated a terminal decline phase years before death,” said Valgeir Thorvaldsson of Göteberg University in Sweden.2 He and his colleagues found that spatial perception declines around eight years prior to death, and verbal ability begins fading six-and-a-half years before the end of a person’s life.

Scripture tells why we have death. According to Genesis, doubt of God’s word led the first humans to the direct disobedience of God’s command, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”3

The Hebrew verbs translated “shalt surely die” can be transcribed as môt tamût. The verb môt is in the infinitive form, and tamût is imperfect, indicating an act not yet completed. A closer English translation might then be, “to die, you will be dying.” Therefore when mankind rebelled against God’s command, God was compelled by His holy and true-to-His-word nature to execute an appropriate consequence: a process of dying that would eventually lead to death.

The study on cognitive decline in the elderly adds another layer of understanding to a physical phenomenon that the Bible describes precisely in its very first depiction of death. This further confirmation of the scientific and physical accuracy of the text provides another reason to rely on the spiritual phenomena described in the text as also being accurate. Just as the tragic process of death is real, so is the spiritual reason behind it: sin. Likewise, just as the miracle of Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead was real, so is the spiritual reason behind that: life. Disbelief of God’s Word brought death, but “he that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life.”4

References

  1. Thorvaldsson,V. et al. 2008. Onset of terminal decline in cognitive abilities in individuals without dementia. Neurology. Published online before print August 27, 2008.
  2. Even Without Dementia, Mental Skills Decline Years Before Death. American Academy of Neurology press release, August 27, 2008.
  3. Genesis 2:17.
  4. John 5:24.

* Mr. Thomas is Science Writer.

Article posted on September 5, 2008.