By Eliza Thomas, Experience Life
Scientists once believed brainpower peaked at early middle age. Now they know better. In a January 2006 Time magazine article, writer Jeffery Kluger reported that recent studies have shown that far from slowing down during the course of a lifetime, the aging brain begins to use new cognitive systems and to cross-index existing ones in new ways.
At UCLA, for example, neurologists studying myelin, the fatty sheath of connective tissue that helps conduct nerve signals throughout the brain, have found that myelin development peaks in healthy adult brains between the ages of 45 and 50. The scientists postulate that this may allow older brains faster processing and information-retrieval speeds than younger brains, whose myelin stores have yet to fully mature.
In fact, older brains operate quite a bit differently than their younger counterparts, according to neuroscientist Roberto Cabeza, PhD, associate professor of psychology and brain sciences at Duke Universityís Center for Cognitive Neuroscience. He found that older brains increasingly use both the left and right hemispheres of the prefrontal cortex in tandem, rather than working independently of each other, like younger brains do. While Cabeza speculates that this phenomenon may be a trick the brain uses to compensate for age-related cognitive decline, the integration of the hemispheres can sometimes become so efficient that the older brainís reasoning and thought processes operate better than ever.