Neuroplasticity is the brain and nervous systems ability to evolve and to repair deficits.
At a basic level it represents the ability to learn and develop a structural and functional system to interact with the environment.
The brain’s neuroplasticity is maximized during childhood and adolescence. This adaptability wanes with age. However, some neuroplasticity ability persists in the older brain.
This persistence was highlighted in a study from Hong Kong recently published in the journal Neural Plasticity.
Natalie Leung and colleagues studied a group of older adults with an average age of 70 years. Two hundred nine older adults were randomized to a cognitive training protocol or a control video education intervention.
The cognitive training protocol involved three one-hour training sessions for 13 weeks (39 hours total cognitive training). The training in this protocol was adapted from the Brain Fitness Program of Posit Science. Elements including tasks focusing on reaction time, visual discrimination, verbal memory, attention and working memory. All subjects completed neuropsychological assessment at baseline and at the end of the 13-week trial.
The active training groups demonstrated significant improvement in a variety of cognitive domains compared to the control group including:
- Higher sustained attention scores on the Seashore Rhythm Test
- Better performance on working memory digit span tasks
- Better performance on visual-spatial cognition
This study did not include a brain imaging component. However, the author’s note their findings suggest sensitive imaging tools might complement their results and provide better understanding of structural and functional elements of neuroplasticity in the older brain.
The role of brain training in modifying the effects of aging on the brain is still in early stages of research. However, the current study supports the ability of elderly individuals to respond to cognitive training interventions.
Individuals with more interest in this study can access the full free-text manuscript by clicking on the PMID link below.
Screenshot of frontal lobes in brain is from the iPad Brain Tutor app.