Keeping Your Brain Young and Working Well Into Your Golden Years By Making Yourself Experience New Viewpoints

How to Train the Aging Brain asks “can an old brain learn, and then remember what it learns?  As it happens, yes. Over the past several years, scientists have looked deeper into how brains age and confirmed that they continue to develop beyond middle age.  The brain, as it traverses middle age, gets better at recognizing the central idea, the big picture. If kept in good shape, the brain can continue to build pathways.  The trick is finding ways to keep brain connections in good condition and to grow more of them.  “The brain is plastic and continues to change, allowing for greater complexity and deeper understanding.”   Educators say that, for adults, one way to nudge neurons in the right direction is to challenge the very assumptions they have worked so hard to accumulate while young. With a brain already full of well-connected pathways, adult learners should “jiggle their synapses a bit” by confronting thoughts that are contrary to their own, says Dr. Kathleen Taylor, 66, a professor at St. Mary’s College of California.

Continued brain development may require that you “bump up against people and ideas” that are different. In a history class, that might mean reading multiple viewpoints, and then prying open brain networks by reflecting on how what was learned has changed your view of the world.  Dr. Taylor says. “We need to challenge our perception of the world. If you always hang around with those you agree with and read things that agree with what you already know, you’re not going to wrestle with your established brain connections.”

Such stretching is exactly what scientists say best keeps a brain in tune: get out of the comfort zone to push and nourish your brain. Do anything from learning a foreign language to taking a different route to work.  “As adults we have these well-trodden paths in our synapses,” Dr. Taylor says. “We have to crack the cognitive egg and scramble it up. And if you learn something this way, when you think of it again you’ll have an overlay of complexity you didn’t have before — and help your brain keep developing as well.” “As adults we have all those brain pathways built up, and we need to look at our insights critically,” he says. “This is the best way for adults to learn. And if we do it, we can remain sharp.”
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When I read things like the above, I listen.  I am always moving my furniture around, taking different routes, switching which hand I use the mouse with or dial the phone with, anything to take me out of a mental rut and make me think a different way.

In Internet use good for the brain they find that “For middle-aged and older people at least, using the internet helps boost brain power.  A University of California Los Angeles team found searching the web stimulated centres in the brain that controlled decision-making and complex reasoning. The researchers say this might even help to counteract the age-related physiological changes that cause the brain to slow down.  The study features in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

“A simple, everyday task like searching the web appears to enhance brain circuitry in older adults.”  Professor Gary Small, University of California Los Angeles said: “The study results are encouraging, that emerging computerised technologies may have physiological effects and potential benefits for middle-aged and older adults.  Internet searching engages complicated brain activity, which may help exercise and improve brain function.  A simple, everyday task like searching the web appears to enhance brain circuitry in older adults, demonstrating that our brains are sensitive and can continue to learn as we grow older.”

Rebecca Wood, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, said: “These fascinating findings add to previous research suggesting that middle-aged and older people can reduce their risk of dementia by taking part in regular mentally stimulating activities.  Frequent social interactions, regular exercise and maintaining a balanced diet can also reduce dementia risk.
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Good to know!

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