I’ve noticed that as I’ve gotten older, I find my brain doesn’t always fire on all cylinders. Sometimes it’s a word that evades me. Other times, it’s difficulty multi-tasking. Some days, it feels like I’m mentally in a fog. And I’m not alone – many women. And my friends who have gone through menopause also complain of similar issues.
But it may not be menopause that’s directly affecting your brain. “Many scientists now believe that the mental fuzziness in menopause is less direct,” PositScience states. “It’s not that hormone levels affect cognitive faculties directly. Instead, they drive other symptoms of menopause, such as mood swings and poor sleep. These symptoms in turn impact memory and other cognitive functions.”
However, many changes in your cognitive function aren’t due to menopause; instead, you can chalk it up to aging. In fact, some of the changes begin when we’re in our 20s and 30s. However, there are steps that can help your brain remain sharp.
“Just as physical activity keeps your body strong, mental activity can help keep your mind engaged and challenged as you age,” Womenshealth.gov stated. “Some research suggests that activities that engage your brain might offer some protection against cognitive decline.”
But another question arises – if you’re already experiencing some slippage, can it be reversed? The answer – surprisingly – is that reversing some of the cognitive decline may be possible! New research suggests that our brains are more malleable than previously thought. The study out of the University of California, San Francisco found that some cognitive processes in older adults improved by playing a specially designed videogame. The cognitive processes that were improved included multi-tasking and maintaining sustained attention.
This study involved a group of adults between the ages of 60 and 85 years of age. The participants were asked to play NeuroRacer, a specially designed computer game that asks the user to drive a race car on a curvy track. Periodically, a green circle appears on the screen, which was a signal for the user to push a button on the controller while they were still driving. This game is designed to challenge the user’s ability to multi-task.
The study participants trained on the game for 12 hours during the course of one month. The researchers found that these adults were able to attain levels of multitasking beyond those achieved by untrained 20-year-old participants. The gains continued for six months.
The researchers believe that focusing efforts on a specific part of the brain through playing a game could influence other areas of cognition. They found that after the older adults had been trained in NeuroRacer, their brains started displaying activity in the prefrontal cortex that was similar to younger adults. The participants also had improved performance in assessments of their memory and attention span. Furthermore, brain wave activity changed, which could provide researchers with clues about stimulating the brain to improve cognition.