Washington — New human research released today shows the benefits and challenges for the aging brain. The studies probe common characteristics of normal aging — including memory loss, reduced sleep quality, and decision-making problems — and suggest the benefits of exercise, hormone treatment, and social interaction. The findings were presented at Neuroscience 2011, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and the world’s largest source of emerging news about brain science and health.
Neuroscientists believe the brain can remain relatively healthy as it ages. By better understanding the aging brain, researchers hope to benefit the 500 million people worldwide who are 65 or older.
Today’s new findings show that:
- Physically fit older adults have fewer signs of aging in their brains, and they outperform their peers in memory tests. The findings suggest exercise may reduce age-related changes in the brain (Gene Alexander, PhD, abstract 293.05, see attached summary).
- Short-term estrogen treatment leads to growth in brain regions known to be involved with attention and memory in post-menopausal women. The findings suggest the brain’s plasticity may be key to preserving cognitive function (Paul Newhouse, MD, abstract 282.11, see attached summary).
- Sleep fails to enhance the memory of older adults, unlike their younger counterparts (Rebecca Spencer, PhD, abstract 196.18, see attached summary).
- The brain’s ability to process social cues is preserved as people age, despite cognitive decline and other age-related changes. The findings suggest older adults may better retain information presented in a social context (Angela Gutchess, PhD, abstract 430.07, see attached summary).
- Older adults who have a tough time making decisions choose smaller, immediate payouts rather than waiting for a larger sum in the future (Kameko Halfmann, PhD, abstract, 293.15, see attached).
“Even as the body begins to slow down as we age, the brain, when challenged by physical and mental activities, continues to grow and change,” said press conference moderator Barbara Sahakian, PhD, of the University of Cambridge, who studies ways to improve cognition. “These findings offer new information about how the brain ages, and also highlights ways to educate older adults about playing a more active role in their brain health.”
This research was supported by national funding agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health, as well as private and philanthropic organizations.
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