Researchers say that although aging is unavoidable, we can take proactive steps to maintain brain function.
A new report explains that what you do in old age may mean more for maintaining a youthful brain than what you did earlier in life.
Researchers have published their findings in the journal Cell Press.
“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,” said Lars Nyberg of Umeå University in Sweden.
Maintaining mental acumen is not associated with the degree of education one has obtained. Experts say that Ph.Ds are as likely as high-school dropouts to experience memory loss with old age. Occupation also has limited relevance as the benefits from a complex or demanding career diminish quickly after retirement.
Researchers say engagement is the secret to success. Individuals who are socially, mentally and physically stimulated 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 said.
Researchers say a preventive strategy is an important shift in focus for the field. Prior studies have focused on understanding ways in which the brain copes with or compensates for cognitive decline in aging.
The new focus 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 said. 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 scientists write.
“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.”
Source: Cell Press