IRVINE, Calif. — It may not be so easy in our elder years to get around like we used to, but that doesn’t mean our brains have to slow down too. A recent University of California, Irvine-led study found that people in their 70s can multitask cognitively just as well as younger adults their 20s with the help of online brain-training exercises.
This is good news in a time of information overload, when individuals of all ages are being asked to multitask to a degree never known before.
“The brain is not a muscle, but like our bodies, if we work out and train it, we can improve our mental performance,” says lead author Mark Steyvers, a professor of cognitive sciences with the university, in a statement.
Steyvers and his research team partnered with Lumosity, an online gaming platform known for its brain-boosting game choices designed to improve memory and focus. For the study, researchers looked at data collected from the task-switching game “Ebb and Flow,” which forces the brain to shift between cognitive processes as it deciphers shapes and movements.
Researchers plucked 1,000 random samples of player performance from the millions of adults who had played the game between 2012 and 2017. Then they assigned them to one of two categories: players between the ages of 21 and 80 who had finished fewer than 60 training sessions, and players between the ages of 71 and 80 who had accomplished at least 1,000 sessions.
“We discovered that people in the upper age ranges who completed specific training tasks were able to beef up their brain’s ability to switch between tasks in the game at a level similar to untrained 20- and 30-year-olds,” said Steyvers.
While that is good news, researchers determined that the slight edge the older players had was quickly diminished once younger players in their 20s completed 10 additional practice sessions. This points to the need for older adults to keep practicing mental gymnastics to maintain the benefits.
“Medical advances and improved lifestyles are allowing us to live longer,” Steyvers said. “It’s important to factor brain health into that equation. We show that with consistent upkeep, cognitive youth can be retained well into our golden years.”
Multitasking and information overload are impacting all brains, young and old. It is good to know that there are options to combat brain drain resulting from divided focus as well as the natural aging process.
Research findings are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.