Important brain functions related to focusing and absorbing new information may even improve after age 50
Brain functions, including information absorption and concentration, improve even over the age of 50, a new study claims.
Researchers who surveyed hundreds of seniors found improvement in two key areas: being able to absorb new information and focusing on what’s important.
These functions are intrinsically linked to areas of knowledge such as decision-making, memory, and self-control, and even affect math, language, reading skills and our sense of navigation.
“These results are astounding and have important implications for how we should view aging,” said study co-author and neuroscientist Michael T. Ullman, director of Georgetown’s Brain and Language Lab. pronunciation.
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In a study of 702 participants, ages 58 to 98, researchers at Georgetown University Medical School examined alertness, executive inhibition (the ability to block distractions), and orientation, defined as the shifting of brainpower “to a particular location in the brain.” room’.
The researchers analyzed three separate components of attention and executive function in the participants: The first, “warning,” is defined as “a state of heightened vigilance and readiness to respond to incoming information,” the release said.
‘Orientation’ meant ‘moving brain resources to a particular location in space’ and ‘executive inhibition’ refers to the ability to block out distracting information from focusing on what is important.
“We use all three processes constantly,” the study’s lead author, João Veríssimo, an expert in psycholinguistics at the University of Lisbon, said in the statement.
“If you’re driving a car, alertness is your heightened readiness as you approach an intersection.”
The researchers found that as attention decreased, executive inhibition and orientation improved
When we shift our attention to a sudden, unexpected movement, such as a pedestrian, that’s orientation, Veríssimo added.
The executive function allows drivers to take out billboards, birds and other drivers and focus on the road.
Alerting, orientation and executive inhibition relate to different areas of the brain.
The 702 subjects in the study were all aged between 58 and 98, when cognition often changes the most.
The researchers found that only the alarm ability decreased with age, while both orientation and executive inhibition actually improved.
“Due to the relatively large number of participants and because we have ruled out numerous alternative explanations, the findings should be reliable and therefore have a fairly broad scope,” explains Veríssimo.
According to the authors, orientation and executive inhibition can be sharpened with exercise, while alertness, which showed a steady decline in the participants, cannot be improved.
He and Ullman theorize that executive function and orientation continue to improve because they require selective attention and can be honed with practice.
They found that the benefits of this practice “may be large enough to outweigh the underlying neural decline,” according to the release.
Alertness diminishes because this ‘basic state of wakefulness and preparedness’ cannot improve with practice.
“People have widely believed that attention and executive function decline with age, despite intriguing hints from some smaller studies that have raised questions about these assumptions,” Ullman said in a statement.
“But the results of our large study indicate that critical elements of these skills actually improve with age, probably because we simply practice these skills throughout our lives.”
The study is particularly relevant as the world faces an increasing aging population.
The US Census Bureau predicts that by 2035 there will be 77 million Americans age 65 and older, more than 76.5 million children age 18 and younger.
More than one in four people in Japan are over 65, while seniors make up more than 20 percent of the population in France and Germany
Germany, Italy, France, Spain and other European countries already have an older population, while in Japan, which is considered a super-aging society, more than one in four people are 65 or older.
With more research, Ullman said, specific activities and exercises could be developed to further improve orientation and executive inhibition as a bulwark against dementia and other types of decline.
“The findings not only change our view of how aging affects the mind, but may also lead to clinical improvements, including for patients with aging disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease,” Ullman said.
The study was recently published in the journal Nature Human behavior.