Why do some older adults remain mentally agile with excellent memory and attention span while others experience a decline in cognitive skills, subject to forgetfulness or dwindling attention span? A recent study by researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital attempted to answer that question, and discovered information that may be useful to readers.

 In the study, researchers compared the brain scans of 17 older adults whose memory and attention was on par with healthy, active 25-year-olds with older adults of similar ages whose memory and attention spans were in decline. The researchers succeeded in identifying brain regions that distinguished the two groups. The two brain regions identified were thinner in the older adults with declining attention spans. However, the two brain regions in the 17 mentally agile adults were indistinguishable from those of healthy young adults, and were seemingly unaffected by the negative effects of time.

These two regions are major hubs for general communication throughout the brain. The brain regions are important for many other functions too, including language, stress, regulation of internal organs, and the coordination of the five senses into a cohesive experience.

Importantly, this new study showed that the thicker these two regions of brain are, the better an older person’s performance on tests of memory and attention span.

 The important question is: Which activities, if any, will increase the thickness of these two regions of the brain, thereby improving memory and attention span, and increasing the chance of remaining mentally sharp into old age?

The answer: Research suggested that these two brain regions remain thick and healthy through vigorous exercise and strenuous mental effort. Whether the effort is physical or mental, performing difficult tasks apparently will increase activity in the two critical brain regions.

Thus, attempts to avoid the discomfort of mental effort or physical exertion is detrimental to the brain. To improve memory and attention span, the results of the study suggested taking up a challenging activity. Working your body, and working your brain will help increase mental agility, memory and attention span.

The results of the new study were summarized in a New York Times article entitled “How to Become a ‘Superager’” which can be found at https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/31/opinion/sunday/how-to-become-a-superager.html?contentCollection=smarter-living&hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=second-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0

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