Researchers at the University of Adelaide conducted a study that suggests parts of the senior brain function just as well as during their prime. The research could be useful to the aging population, giving confidence to seniors seeking to understand their limits and test their capabilities.
The right cerebral hemisphere, responsible for responding to visual and non-visual stimuli -- collectively referred to as "spatial attention" in the scientific community -- could be a fountain of youth, according to the study.
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"When we think of aging, we think not just of the physical aspects but also the cognitive side of it, especially when it comes to issues such as reaction time, which is typically slower among older adults," says Dr. Joanna Brooks, a Visiting Research Fellow with the University of Adelaide's School of Psychology and the School of Medicine. "However, our research suggests that certain types of cognitive systems in the right cerebral hemisphere, like spatial attention, are 'encapsulated' and may be protected from aging," she says.
In Dr. Brooks' study, a group of 60 participants representing two age groups (18-38 years and 55-95 years) were asked to perform a series of tasks involving touch, sight and sound to test their spatial attention skills.
Dr. Brooks says no major differences were observed between the two age groups.
She highlights an example of an experiment in which subjects were blindfolded and asked to locate the middle of a given wooden object.
In this test, says Dr. Brooks, all participants exhibited the same bias, judging the middle to be slightly left of center, regardless of age.
"Our results challenge current models of cognitive aging because they show that the right side of the brain remains dominant for spatial processing throughout the entire adult lifespan," says Dr. Brooks. "We now need to better understand how and why some areas of the brain seem to be more affected by aging than others."
Dr. Brooks' study is part of an international collaboration with researchers at the University of Edinburgh and Queen Margaret University in Scotland on spatial attention in the human brain.
Her study was presented at the 12th International Cognitive Neuroscience Conference in Brisbane, Australia.
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