Age isn’t an issue – you can retrain the brain

Multi-tasking has traditionally been considered the domain of the young and frantic. But a new, large-scale study by researchers from Australia and California has shown that older people can keep pace with those in their twenties – it’s simply a matter of practice.

 

Older brains traditionally process information more slowly, which can make doing more than one thing at a time difficult. However, researchers from the University of Newcastle, Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) and the University of California, Irvine have discovered that it’s possible to train the brain to multi-task.

 

Professor Frini Karayanidis from the School of Psychology at the University and HMRI’s Brain and Mental Health Program says that it’s important for the human brain to be able to engage with multiple information sources. “However, as we age, our brain tends to process information more slowly and we are less able to quickly adapt to changing demands.”

 

Even something as simple as maintaining a conversation with our fellow passenger while concentrating on driving can become challenging as we age.

 

Using data from the Lumosity’s – “Ebb and Flow” game, an app-based brain training game, the team assessed users’ ability to switch between two tasks, and examined how task practice improved performance.

 

Older adults performed more poorly on task switching than younger adults, and showed slower rate of improvement with practice. However, the gap between young and old adults reduced with practice, showing significant improvements in task strategy for all groups.

 

“Importantly, we found that with sufficient practice, some older adults were able to improve their performance to levels equivalent to their younger counterparts,” Professor Karayanidis said.

 

“It is now important to understand what makes these older adults particularly responsive to practice, and whether this finding can be used to inform approaches to using training to maintain real-world skills, such as safe driving.”

 

This research has exciting potential for our ageing population as it demonstrates that it is possible to improve mental performance through training.

 

Read the full paper at https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2019/08/13/1906788116

 

6 September 2019.