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Does My Brain Improve as I Age?

The abilities that grow stronger help us with several key parts of cognition, new research finds.
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Money Talks News’ recent article entitled “2 Ways Your Aging Brain Actually Improves Over Time” explains that our ability to gather new information and to concentrate on the most important things in any given situation may get better with age, according to new research out of Georgetown University Medical Center. The findings were published in the journal Nature Human Behavior.

As part of the study, researchers examined three distinct components of attention and executive function in group of about 700 participants:

  • Alerting — a state of enhanced vigilance and preparedness in order to respond to incoming information;
  • Orienting — the shifting of brain resources to a particular location in space; and
  • Executive inhibition — in which we inhibit distracting or conflicting information, allowing us to focus on what is important.

Study co-author João Veríssimo, an assistant professor at the University of Lisbon, Portugal, explained:

“We use all three processes constantly. For example, when you are driving a car, alerting is your increased preparedness when you approach an intersection. Orienting occurs when you shift your attention to an unexpected movement, such as a pedestrian. And executive function allows you to inhibit distractions, such as birds or billboards, so you can stay focused on driving.”

They looked at individuals from 58 and 98, the ages when cognition tends to change the most during the aging process. The researchers found that while alerting abilities declined with age, the other two abilities improved. Those two abilities help us with several key parts of cognition, such as:

  • Memory
  • Decision-making
  • Self-control
  • Navigation
  • Math
  • Language
  • Reading

The researchers say orienting and inhibition appear to be skills that can get better over a lifetime the more they’re practiced. However, it appears that alerting — a basic state of vigilance and preparedness — can’t improve with practice.

Study co-author Michael T. Ullman, a professor in the Georgetown University Department of Neuroscience and director of Georgetown’s Brain and Language Lab, commented, “People have widely assumed that attention and executive functions decline with age, despite intriguing hints from some smaller-scale studies that raised questions about these assumptions. However, the results from our large study indicate that critical elements of these abilities actually improve during aging, likely because we simply practice these skills throughout our life.”

Reference: Money Talks News (Sep. 6, 2021) “2 Ways Your Aging Brain Actually Improves Over Time”

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