Older Adults Maintain Youthful Brains by Staying Mentally, Socially Stimulated
Engagement is the secret to a brain that appears younger than its years
April 28, 2012 - Aging may seem unavoidable, but that's not necessarily so when it comes to the brain. It is what you do
in old age that matters most when it comes to maintaining a youthful brain, now what you did earlier in life, according to new research.
"Although some memory functions do tend to decline as we get older, several elderly show well preserved functioning and
this is related to a well-preserved, youth-like brain," says Lars Nyberg of Umea University in Sweden.
Education won't save your brain - PhDs are as likely as high-school dropouts to experience memory loss with old age, the
researchers say. Don't count on your job either. Those with a complex or demanding career may enjoy a limited advantage, but those benefits
quickly dwindle after retirement.
Engagement is the secret to success. Those who are socially, mentally and physically stimulated reliably show better
cognitive performance with a brain that appears younger than its years.
"There is quite solid evidence that staying physically and mentally active is a way towards brain maintenance," Nyberg
The researchers say this new take on successful aging represents an important shift in focus for the field. Much
attention in the past has gone instead to understanding ways in which the brain copes with or compensates for cognitive decline in aging.
The research team now argues for the importance of avoiding those age-related brain changes in the first place. Genes
play some role, but life choices and other environmental factors, especially in old age, are critical.
Elderly people generally do have more trouble remembering meetings or names, Nyberg says. But those memory losses often
happen later than many often think, after the age of 60. Older people also continue to accumulate knowledge and to use what they know
effectively, often to very old ages.
"Taken together, a wide range of findings provides converging evidence for marked heterogeneity in brain aging," the
"Critically, some older adults show little or no brain changes relative to younger adults, along with intact cognitive
performance, which supports the notion of brain maintenance. In other words, maintaining a youthful brain, rather than responding to and
compensating for changes, may be the key to successful memory aging."
The research report is in the April 27 edition of the Cell Press journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences.
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