Every minute that passes we age, and most people believe that advancing age will inevitably mean a decline in our mental abilities.
I know that at 66 years old it takes me longer to remember things that once I could bring quickly to mind.
However a recent study has found that not every mental faculty declines and that some even improve!
Now new research from Georgetown University Medical Center offers surprisingly good news.
The findings, published August 19, 2021, in Nature Human Behaviour, show that two key brain functions can in fact improve in older individuals, perhaps because they practise them throughout their lives?
This is important because of our rapidly ageing population, perhaps these areas can be further improved to ward against cognitive decline?
The research team, led by João Veríssimo, PhD, from the University of Lisbon, looked at three components of attention and executive function in a group of 702 participants aged 58 to 98. They examined Alerting, Orienting and Executive Inhibition.
Alerting is a state of enhanced vigilance in order to respond to incoming information.
Orienting involves shifting brain resources to a particular location in space.
Executive Inhibition allows us to focus on what's important and ignore distractions.
Imagine you’re driving a car. Alerting is how you feel when you approach an intersection. Orienting happens when you detect a movement such as an approaching car and Executive Inhibition allows you to focus on your driving and ignore distractions such as a good looking person walking on the footpath.
The study found that only Alerting abilities decline with age but both Orienting and Executive Inhibition actually improved.
The researchers think that because Orienting and Executive Inhibition are simply skills that allow people to attend to objects, these skills can improve with lifelong practice. But that Alerting declines because this state of vigilance cannot improve with practice.
Orienting and Executive Inhibitory skills underlie many behaviours, and so the results have implications which may lead to improvements for patients with ageing disorders such as Alzheimers.
Now if I could only remember to be Alert to these findings!