Despite slower memory, seniors brains protected by experiences

There are many common assumptions that go along with aging, and one of the most pervasive is that seniors tend to lose some of their mental capacities as they get older. However, a recent study from University of California, Riverside found that while seniors’ brain function may have slowed compared to younger adults, their gained experience and wisdom tends to make up for it, according to findings published in the journal Psychology and Aging.

Intelligence and experience
To measure the impact of past experiences on cognitive function, researchers turned to more than 335 participants who ranged in age from 18 to 82. They performed a number of tests, including an assessment of their economic decision-making methods. Additionally, the study team also administered tests to gauge the participants’ fluid intelligence – the kind that learns and processes information – as well as their crystallized intelligence, which relates to accumulated knowledge and experience. Researchers found that older participants made equally good decision as their younger counterparts. And although their fluid intelligence may diminish, their crystallized intelligence improved with age.

“The findings confirm our hypothesis that experience and acquired knowledge from a lifetime of decision making offset the declining ability to learn new information,” said lead researcher Ye Li.

Lifestyle can help
While the findings may be a potential breakthrough for memory care, there are other ways for seniors to ensure they stay mentally sharp as they get older. One of the best ways for them to do so is stay physically fit.  A 2012 study presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference found that simple activities such as walking and resistance training may have a positive impact on the brain. Specifically, researchers from the University of British Columbia observed that woman diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment showed function improvements to their memory after taking part in resistance training over the course of six months.

“Both resistance training and aerobic training have benefits and improve different types of memory,” lead author Lindsay Nagamatsu told Medscape Medical News last year. “But perhaps a higher dose of aerobic training is required to impact executive functioning and functional plasticity.”