Tuning the ageing brain

Wired News has a brief article on how ageing affects the brain and what are the current best-supported practices to keep our mental edge as we progress into our senior years.

The article discusses ways in which the brain overcomes the natural decline in function and how this process can be supported.

Despite the current interest in ‘brain training’, which in its current version seems to have a moderate effect at best, the most effective technique seems to be physical exercise (although a combination of both may well be the best option of course).

Exercise is known both to boost mood and maintain the blood supply network to the brain, both of which are known to be crucial to mental functioning.

What’s the advice for now?

Physical exercise is the best-proven prescription so far, the scientists agreed. Memory improved when 72-year-olds started a walking program three days a week, and sophisticated scans showed their brains’ activity patterns started resembling those of younger people.

Then there’s the “use-it-or-lose-it” theory, that people with higher education, more challenging occupations and enriched social lives build more cognitive reserve than couch potatoes.

It’s never too late to start building up that reserve, said Columbia University neuroscientist Yaakov Stern. But, “the question is how. What is the recipe?”

Everything from doing crossword puzzles to various computer-based brain-training programs has been touted, but nothing is yet proven to work. Johns Hopkins University has a major government-funded study under way called the “Experience Corps,” where older adults volunteer to tutor school students 15 hours a week, to see if such long-term stimulation maintains the elders’ brains.

What about medication? Companies have been reluctant to test side effect-prone drugs in an otherwise healthy aging brain, but scientists cited animal studies suggesting low-dose estrogen and drugs that might mimic or ramp up brain signaling are promising possibilities.

Link to Wired article ‘Doctors Discuss Theories on Aging Brains’.

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