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.
Researchers hope to start developing videogames like NeuroRacer for specific use to improve cognitive function in order to battle numerous brain disorders.
NeuroRacer currently is in development and the company that owns it is trying to get it classified as a treatment for ADHD. However, it could take years for the Food and Drug Administration to provide this approval.
So while we’re waiting for the proverbial fountain of youth video game, here’s what I’d suggest doing to help your brain:
- Eat a Mediterranean diet.
- Exercise physically.
- Try new things, such as a new hobby or learning to play a music instrument.
- Play Scrabble or do crossword puzzles or Sudoku.
- Lower your stress level.
- Get enough quality sleep.
And there are benefits from an aging brain. According to Women’s Health.gov, middle-aged adults often do better on tests involving knowledge and information than young adults. Our use of words and our vocabulary in general also improve with age. Finally, all of our experiences and knowledge give us a level of wisdom our younger selves would have envied.
Primary Sources for This Sharepost:
Anguera, J. A., et al. (2013). Video game training enhances cognitive control in older adults. Nature.
Houston Chronicle. (2013). Old brains act younger with help of video game.
PositScience. (nd). The brain on menopause.
Rusli, E. M. (2013). Videogame improves cognitive ability, new study says. The Wall Street Journal.
Womenshealthgov. (2010). The aging brain.
Published On: September 06, 2013