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Scientists find why some older people keep wits about them

Discussion in 'JF Doctor' started by Serendipity, Dec 16, 2009.

  1. Serendipity

    Serendipity JF-Expert Member

    Dec 16, 2009
    Joined: Jan 24, 2009
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    RESEARCHERS IN the US led by an Irish neuroscientist have shown why some older people remain highly capable in later life, knowledge that might help others to up their mental game.
    University College Dublin graduate Dr John Foxe led the research at the Nathan Kline Research Institute in Orangeburg, New York.
    Some people remain sharp and alert well into old age, while others lose mental function, he said yesterday. “With older people you get a lot of variance. Some get doddery but with others you say, ‘He is as good as he ever was’, or ‘He is as sharp as a tack’,” Dr Foxe said. “I wanted to find out what is it that is special about those people.”
    He and post-doctoral research fellow Dr Pierfilippo De Sanctis assumed there were two possibilities. Either the brains of the high performers remained youthful and free of the changes caused by age, or the age-related decline came but they were somehow able to compensate for it.
    Dr Foxe decided to study brain wave activity (EEG) in an older group with an average age of 75, publishing his work in the journal Human Brain Mapping.
    Each subject was asked to do two tasks at once, one involving letters and one involving numbers, with the subjects switching back and forth between the two tasks, Dr Foxe explained.
    Many older people find it increasingly difficult to accomplish this switching, he said.
    “You can switch your attention around easily but the elderly have a problem with this. Using EEG we could watch the brain switch between these tasks.”
    The researchers quickly discovered that in fact the high performers did have an older person’s brain but they overcame any deficits by making fresh use of the reasoning part of the brain, the frontal lobes, he said.
    “What we found was their brains had been substantially reorganised. What they had been able to do is compensate by reorganising.”
    The finding is hugely important because it suggests that it might actually be possible to teach others how to do this.
    “What it is saying is there is a lot of plasticity in the frontal lobes, even as you get older,” Dr Foxe said.
    “If these folks can learn the trick , then we may be able to find how to teach others to do it. What is good about this is we can objectively measure this. We can see if we can take people in the lower-performing bracket and move them up to a higher bracket.”
    Source:The Irish Times