Build Middle-Age Brain Power?

September 12, 2009 by  
Filed under Build Mind Power

think smartAre you a middle-age or older adult? Then you might want to spend more time searching the internet to build your brain power.

Scientists at UCLA have found that for middle-age and older adults, searching the Internet triggers key centers in the brain that control decision-making and complex reasoning. The findings demonstrate that Web search activity may help stimulate and  improve brain function and cognitive ability.

“The study results indicate that emerging computerized technologies may have physiological effects and potential (improve brain power) benefits for middle-aged and older adults,” said principal investigator Dr. Gary Small, a professor at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA. Small found that searching the internet engages complicated brain activity, and “may help exercise and improve brain function.”

As the brain ages, a number of structural and functional changes occur, including atrophy, reductions in cell activity, and increases in deposits of plaques and tangles – all of which impact cognitive function. Small noted that pursuing activities that keep the mind engaged helps preserve brain health and cognitive ability.

The UCLA team worked with 24 neurologically normal research volunteers between the ages of 55 and 76. Half of the study participants had experience searching the Internet, while the other half had no experience. Age, educational level and gender were similar between the two groups.

Study participants performed Web searches and book-reading tasks while undergoing brain scans that measured the level of cerebral blood flow during the cognitive tasks.

All study participants showed significant brain activity during the book-reading task, but internet searches revealed a major difference. While all participants demonstrated the same brain activity that was seen during the book-reading task, the Web-savvy group also registered activity in the frontal, temporal and cingulate areas of the brain controlling decision-making and complex reasoning.

“Our most striking finding was that Internet searching appears to engage a greater extent of neural circuitry that is not activated during reading — but only in those with prior Internet experience,” said Small, who is also the director of UCLA’s Memory and Aging Research Center. In fact, researchers found that during Web searching, volunteers with prior experience registered a twofold increase in brain activation when compared with those with little Internet experience.

Compared with simple reading, the Internet requires making decisions about what to click on in order to pursue more information — an activity that engages cognitive circuits in the brain.”Searching the Web appears to enhance brain circuitry in mid-age and older adults,” Small said.

Small added that the minimal brain activation in the less experienced Internet group may be due to participants not quite grasping the strategies needed to successfully engage in an Internet search.