Thursday, 16 February 2012

Plasticity in brains of middle age and older adults

Following on from our last post about brain neuroplasticity, this blog focuses on the ability of the brains of middle aged and older adults (ages 50 +) to change in response to environmental input.

This is particularly good news because of all individuals who were told their brain was fixed, none were given this message more so that people in this age group!

Initial evidence that brain training works!

The data came from the Iowa Healthy and Active Minds Study and investigated the efficacy of attention-based visual 'brain training' exercises. Brain training exercises are typically computer based programs which present activities that aim to restore or improve cognitive functioning in various areas, usually: attention, memory, communication and planning/organisation. They can be used as part of a program of cognitive remediation for people who have sustained brain damage, or to miminise cognitive decline that occurs naturally with age.

Participants in the experimental groups underwent brain training exercises with different levels of supervision and follow up. The training came in the form of a game that challenged participants to visually process multiple things on the screen at once. A control group underwent crossword puzzle training sessions. Progress was measured by assessing particiants' "useful field of view", what they are able to attend to out of the corner of their eye, which is known to shrink with age.

Initial findings showed improvements in the useful field of view and performance on other cognitive tests of the experimental groups compared to the control group. This distinction indicates that it is the content of the training itself that is having the effect, rather than general stimulation.

The findings add to what scientists are beginning to learn: brain training has the potential to strengthen neural connections in the brain and may help to keep people of all ages mentally sharp! There are a broad range of online options for brain training exercises for those of us trying to keep our brains active and 'plastic'.

If you have sustained a brain injury and are looking for a specific treatment program, please contact us to find out more about our cognitive remediation services.

And stay tuned for more information about neuroplasticity...

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