Forever Young: 'Youthful' Part of Human Brain Stays the Same as We Age

First Posted: Aug 07, 2014 11:45 AM EDT

As our age increases in number, it's normal for our body to also follow. Of course, we gain new knowledge and understanding. At the same time, elderly individuals may have more difficulty doing or remembering certain things they did during their youth.

Yet did you know that there is a part of the brain that stays relatively young despite age?

Researchers at the University of Adelaide in South Australia compared the ability of 60 older and younger people to better measure their "spatial attention" skills, which links this younger area of the brain to visual and non-visual stimuli via the right hemisphere. 

"Our studies have found that older and younger adults perform in a similar way on a range of visual and non-visual tasks that measure spatial attention," said Dr Joanna Brooks, who conducted the study as a Visiting Research Fellow with the University of Adelaide's School of Psychology and the School of Medicine, in a news release

"Both younger (aged 18-38 years) and older (55-95 years) adults had the same responses for spatial attention tasks involving touch, sight or sound."

Throughout life, spatial attention remains critical for many aspects, including driving, walking picking up objects and even using them.

"In one task, participants were asked to feel wooden objects whilst blindfolded and decide where the middle of the object was - participants' judgements were significantly biased towards the left-hand side of the true object centre. This bias is subtle but highly consistent."

Researchers noted that most of us think of "aging" strictly regarding the physical aspects and not when it comes to issues that involve reaction time. Though this, too, is typically slower among older adults, these new findings suggest that certain types of cognitive systems in the right cerebral hemisphere--such as spatial attention--are "encapsulated" to protect people from "aging."

These results challenge current models on cognitive aging regarding right side dominance and spatial processing. However, Dr. Brooks concluded that "We now need to better understand how and why some areas of the brain seem to be more affected by ageing than others."

More information regarding the findings were presented at the 12th International Cognitive Neuroscience Conference in Brisbane.

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