Old brains should learn new tricks
November 11, 2007
Virtually every day more research is focusing on issues impacting senior citizens. One example is a recent study that suggests that seniors should keep their minds active as a key to good health.

“As we age, we lose neurons, but these neurons can form new connections. Research is being conducted now to determine if new brain connections develop with mental and physical exercise. Many researchers already believe that is the case,” said Dr. Jim Wirth, human development specialist, University of Missouri Extension.

According to Wirth, the brain of a senior citizen is similar to the brain of a healthy young person. But, like other muscles in the body, the brain can grow and become healthier with use.

“Each day we commit millions of pieces of data into our short and long term memories. As we get older, it becomes harder to retrieve because we are on overload. Plus, we don't memorize as easily because we don't practice the skill as often as we did when young,” said Wirth.

Wirth thinks there are ways to compensate for age-related declines in working memory. For example, presenting information at a slower pace, organizing data and elaborating on it gives the brain time to process and establish links between new and previously learned information. He also suggests using exercises to improving specific mental functions.

“For example, do a daily mental exercise each morning. You could begin the day by counting out loud backward from 100 or reciting the alphabet giving each letter a word,” said Wirth.

He cited simple activities like setting the table in a different way, trying a new recipe, going to visit a place you never have been before or walking a different route also can work the memory.

“Many of the same activities that we use to stimulate the minds of young children can be fun and stimulating for us as older adults,” said Wirth.

It is true that our brains change and slow as we age but most people do not have serious loss of memory or intelligence according to Wirth.

“The key is to try and do something new to keep your brain and mind young,” Wirth concluded.

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