Once we go “over the hill,” the aging process is typically associated with inexorable physical and mental decline. But researchers recently uncovered promising indications that there’s at least one part of the brain that doesn’t appear to be touched by natural aging.
“When we think of aging, we think not just of the physical aspects but also the cognitive side of it, especially when it comes to issues such as reaction time, which is typically slower among older adults,” says lead author Dr. Joanna Brooks, a Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Adelaide’s School of Psychology and School of Medicine in a press release.
But when Brooks’ team compared the spatial attention—the ability to concentrate on specific visual elements, despite being exposed to a variety of stimuli—of older adults (55-95 years old) to that of younger adults (18-38 years old), they found that both groups had similar levels of success and failure. For instance, one task had participants try to determine where the center of an object was, while blindfolded, using only their sense of touch. Regardless of their age bracket, the subjects consistently demonstrated a tendency to pick a spot just to the left of the true center of each object.
“Our research suggests that certain types of cognitive systems in the right cerebral hemisphere—like spatial attention—are ‘encapsulated’ and may be protected from aging,” Brooks explains. “We now need to better understand how and why some areas of the brain seem to be more affected by aging than others.”
The aging brain
According to Brooks, the findings “challenge the current models of cognitive aging” because the prevailing theory is that even healthy older adults mentally slow down as they age. But this assessment may not be as simple as traditional explanations of aging indicate.
In his post, “I’m Not Slow or Forgetful, I Just Know Too Much,” octogenarian blogger, John Schappi examines how another recent study aims to explain why the brains of aging individuals seem to work differently than their younger counterparts.
Yet another new study concluded that the cognitive capabilities of older adults are sharper in the morning hours than they are in the afternoon—taking the concept of the “2:30 feeling” to a whole other level.
Why Older Adults Are Sharper in the Morning
When it comes to how our minds work, what science doesn’t know far outweighs what it does know. Still, each new study lends insight into one of our world’s most complex creations: the human brain.
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