Recently, I read a review of a study by the University of California, Los Angeles campus, concerning the Internet and the elderly. A group of scientists studied 24 healthy people between the ages of 55 and 76. Half of these participants were experienced with using the Internet; the other half had no experience. The test involved measuring the cerebral blood flow using functional magnetic resonance imaging scans while the participants performed Web searches and read books. An upcoming issue of The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry will highlight this study. The results suggest that searching the Web helps to stimulate and could even improve brain function. Searching the Internet triggers key centers of the brain that control decision making and complex reasoning. Test results showed that all participants exhibited the same brain activity during book reading. The Web savvy group also registered activity in areas of the brain controlling decision making and complex reasoning. Dr. Gary Small, director of UCLA’s Memory and Aging Research Center said, “…Internet searching appears to engage a greater extent of neural circuitry not activated during reading—but only in those with prior Internet experience…Internet searching engages complicated brain activity, which may help exercise and improve brain function.” Further, this study shows that our brains are sensitive and can continue to learn as we grow older.
None of this surprised me. I was fortunate enough to have a career which forced me to enter the computer age. I used it throughout the later years of my teaching for my lesson plans, handout paper, research, etc. I also taught my students how to use the computer and how to get the most out of it. In order to use the Web, you either need to know the exact name of what you are searching, or you need to decide on a key word or words to help your search. This search for word/words is done mentally—thus exercising you mind! Further, you must use critical thinking skills to reduce the amount of possible sites by eliminating ones which are not relative to what you are searching. For instance, you might be researching Italian spices. If you enter Italy, you will end up with 572 million entries from which to choose. Therefore, you have to limit your search, so you might enter Italian spices. Even this will render a list of 336 thousand. Depending on what you are looking for, you may be able to limit your search topic even more, thus further limiting your possible hits. Each time you further define and refine your topic, you are exercising your mind!
I am developing another series in my Strengthening Your Mind classes which involves this very thing! I will be leading seniors in researching the Internet. Of course, there will be some participants who do not use the Internet. These folk will be paired with others who do have experience with the Internet. Together, they will be taking advantage of the brain exercises as they decide what key words to use to find the desired material. We will take the time to see how each team found the material, what key words were used, and what criteria they used for deciding which sites might be most helpful. I am really looking forward to this particular set of lessons as they should be full of fun and high spirited.