Australian researchers have found a specific brain function remains the same in later years as they were in prime time.
One skill that appears to remain intact is spatial attention, or the ability to focus on specific stimuli in a visual environment.
Investigators at the University of Adelaide compared the ability of 60 older and younger people to respond to visual and non-visual stimuli in order to measure their “spatial attention” skills.
Spatial attention is a critical skill used in many aspects of life, from driving, to walking, to picking up and using objects.
“Our studies have found that older and younger adults perform in a similar way on a range of visual and non-visual tasks that measure spatial attention,” said researcher Joanna Brooks, Ph.D.
“Both younger (aged 18-38 years) and older (55-95 years) adults had the same responses for spatial attention tasks involving touch, sight or sound.
“In one task, participants were asked to feel wooden objects whilst blindfolded and decide where the middle of the object was — participants’ judgments were significantly biased towards the left-hand side of the true object center. This bias is subtle but highly consistent,” according to Brooks.
“When we think of aging, we think not just of the physical aspects but also the cognitive side of it, especially when it comes to issues such as reaction time, which is typically slower among older adults.
However, our research suggests that certain types of cognitive systems in the right cerebral hemisphere — like spatial attention — are ‘encapsulated’ and may be protected from ageing,” she says.
“Our results challenge current models of cognitive ageing because they show that the right side of the brain remains dominant for spatial processing throughout the entire adult lifespan,” Brooks said.
“We now need to better understand how and why some areas of the brain seem to be more affected by aging than others.”
Experts believe the research will be particularly helpful in better understanding how diseases such as Alzheimer’s affect the brain.
Source: University of Adelaide