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Healthy Brain Wiring Preserves Cognitive Skills

Healthy Nerve Connections in Brain Preserve Cognitive SkillsThe benefits of being “well-connected” apply to more than social status and economic success – new study finds that maintaining nerve connections in the brain keeps us sharp in later life.

The UK study suggests older people with robust brain “wiring” – connections of nerve fibers from different and distinct areas of the brain – are able to process information quickly and that this makes them generally smarter. Accordingly, the research suggests joining distant parts of the brain together with better wiring improves mental performance, signifying that intelligence is not found in a single part of the brain.

Moreover, a degraded condition of this wiring or “white matter” – the billions of nerve fibers that transmit signals around the brain – can negatively affect our intelligence by altering networks and slowing down processing speed.

University of Edinburgh researchers say this demonstrates that the deterioration of white matter with age is likely to be a significant cause of age-related cognitive decline.

In the study, the research team used three different brain imaging techniques in compiling the results, including two that have never been used before in the study of intelligence. These techniques measure the amount of water in brain tissue, indicate structural loss in the brain, and show how well the nerve fibers are insulated.

The researchers examined scans and results of thinking and reaction time tests from 420 people in the Lothian Birth Cohort of 1936, a group of nearly 1,100 people whose intelligence and general health have been tracked since they were 11years of age.

Study author and psychologist Dr. Lars Penke said, “Our results suggest a first plausible way how brain structure differences lead to higher intelligence. The results are exciting for our understanding of human intelligence differences at all ages.

“They also suggest a clear target for seeking treatment for mental difficulties, be they pathological or age-related. That the brain’s nerve connections tend to stay the same throughout the brain means we can now look at factors that affect the overall condition of the brain, like its blood supply.”

As our society ages, uncovering the secrets of good thinking skills in old age is a high priority.

“The research team is now looking at what keeps the brain’s connections healthy,” Penke said. “We value our thinking skills, and research should address how we might retain them or slow their decline with age.”

Co-author Mark Bastin, M.D., said, “These findings are exciting as they show how quantitative brain imaging can provide novel insights into the links between brain structure and cognitive ability. This is a key research area given the importance of identifying strategies for retaining good mental ability into older age.”

Such findings could have a real impact on tackling mental decline in later life, including dementia.

Source: University of Edinburgh

Healthy Brain Wiring Preserves Cognitive Skills

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Healthy Brain Wiring Preserves Cognitive Skills. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 23, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 24 May 2012)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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