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SciTech Neuroscience: How To Train The Aging Brain

Discussion in 'Breaking News' started by Aman Singh, Jan 8, 2010.

  1. Aman Singh

    Aman Singh
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    Jun 1, 2004
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    Neuroscience: How to Train the Aging Brain

    Published: December 29, 2009

    . . . Brains in middle age, which, with increased life spans, now stretches from
    the 40s to late 60s, also get more easily distracted. Start boiling water for
    pasta, go answer the doorbell and whoosh all thoughts of boiling water
    disappear. Indeed, aging brains, even in the middle years, fall into whats
    called the default mode, during which the mind wanders off and begin
    . . how brains age and confirmed that they continue to develop through and
    beyond middle age.
    Many longheld views, including the one that 40 percent of brain cells are lost,
    have been overturned. What is stuffed into your head may not have vanished but
    has simply been squirreled away in the folds of your neurons.
    . . . Dr. Burke has done research on tots, those tip-of-the-tongue times
    when you know something but cant quite call it to mind. Dr. Burkes
    research shows that such incidents increase in part because neural connections,
    which receive, process and transmit information, can weaken with disuse or age.
    But she also finds that if you are primed with sounds that are close to those
    youre trying to remember say someone talks about cherry pits as you try
    to recall Brad Pitts name suddenly the lost name will pop into mind. The
    similarity in sounds can jump-start a limp brain connection. (It also sometimes
    works to silently run through the alphabet until landing on the first letter of
    the wayward word.)
    This association often happens automatically, and goes unnoticed. Not long ago I
    started reading The Prize, a history of the oil business. When I got to
    the part about Rockefellers early days as an oil refinery owner, I realized,
    hey, I already know this from having read Titan. The material was still in
    my head; it just needed a little prodding to emerge.
    Recently, researchers have found even more positive news. 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 that
    help its owner recognize patterns and, as a consequence, see significance and
    even solutions much faster than a young person can.
    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, not in getting bigger but
    allowing for greater complexity and deeper understanding, says Kathleen
    Taylor, a professor at St. Marys College of California, who has studied ways
    to teach adults effectively. As adults we may not always learn quite as fast,
    but we are set up for this next developmental step.
    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. Taylor, who is 66.
    . . . a richer form of learning 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.
    . . .If you always hang around with those you agree with and read things that
    agree with what you already know, youre 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 youll have an overlay of
    complexity you didnt have before and help your brain keep developing as
    Jack Mezirow, a professor emeritus at Columbia Teachers College, has proposed
    that adults learn best if presented with what he calls a disorienting
    dilemma, or something that helps you critically reflect on the assumptions
    youve acquired.
    . . . 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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