How well our brain functions changes with age. As we get older, some functions start to decline – such as memory or the speed at which we process information. We may lose our car keys more often, leave pasta to boil over on the stove, or forget the name of a person we just met. These brain hiccups can leave us wondering if there are things we can do to stay sharp. It turns out that healthy aging doesn’t just mean moving your body. Exercising your brain is important, too!
The four main categories of brain (cognitive) function, and why they matter
- Memory allows us to understand, learn, store, and remember information. Alzheimer’s disease heavily affects this part of cognitive function. Memory loss in an otherwise healthy individual may be an early sign of dementia.
- Attention allows us to focus on one specific thing and process information about it quickly. This process slows down as we age.
- Executive function allows us to organize our thoughts and act on them. It lets us set goals for the present and future, and to plan, organize, make choices, and solve problems.
- Visual-spatial ability allows us to understand objects in three-dimensional space.
Exercising your brain
Any of these areas can be affected as we grow older, but there are exercises for the brain that may help delay this age-related brain drain.
Cognitive-based training aims to maintain cognitive function in older adults and can include many different types of activities, such as video games, physical activity, computerized training, and interactive television-based training.
Research shows that cognitive-based training improves overall cognitive function and executive function among healthy older adults. Small gains were also observed in memory, attention, and visual-spatial ability. The greatest benefit to executive function occurred when cognitive-based training was done three or more times per week for 24 sessions or more, while training for eight weeks or more resulted in improvement to attention.
If you’re worried about staying sharp as you age, don’t forget your brain needs “push-ups” too. Cognitive-based training may be just what you need to keep your brain in shape.
Do you value credible health information? The McMaster Optimal Aging Portal is a free website that gives you access to evidence-based information to help you age well and manage your health conditions.