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Tuesday, 20 October 2009 22:35

Senior brains get a Web boost

U.S. researchers found that even after only one week using the Internet, the brains of older adults are stimulated enough to provide good mental exercise, along with strengthening their ability to reason.

The findings of the researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) were presented on Monday, October 19, 2009, at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience (Neuroscience2009), which is being held in Chicago, Illinois, from October 17-21, 2009.

The UCLA researchers studied 24 people from the ages of 55 to 78 years who were considered to be normal for their age group with respect to their brain function.

They were also considered similar with other participants with respect to their educational level, gender (equal numbers of males and females), and age (similar ages in the two groups studied).

The 24 participants were divided into two groups.

Twelve of the participants had already used the Internet daily before the study was conducted. However, the other twelve had barely any experience using the Internet before their activities before the researchers.

Within the study, all of the participants performed Web searchers on various topics while being analyzed in the laboratory with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans. The fMRI scans measured neurological changes in their brains by measuring changes in the blood flow in the various regions of the brain.

After conducting one round of Web searchers at the laboratory, while being fMRI scanned, the participants were told to go home and conduct similar Web searchers for one hour per day for a total of seven days (over a fourteen-day period).

During their homework phase of the study, the participants checked out various Web sites, read information from these sites, and answered questions posed by the researchers with respect to their Internet usage.

At the end of the two-week period, the participants returned to the lab for a second round of Internet searchers and other fMRI brain scans.

This time, however, the searchers searched the Web with regards to different topics than from the first round at the lab.

The researchers found that the group of elderly participants with little Internet experience showed changes in their brain activity.

According to the October 19, 2009 MSNBC News article Internet alters older brains in just one week. “The results suggest Internet training can stimulate neural activation patterns and could potentially enhance brain function and cognition in older adults.”

Page two concludes with comments from the authors, and further information about the study on Internet use and older brains.

Dr. Gary W. Small, one of the researchers of the study and a professor of psychiatry at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, stated, "We found that for older people with minimal experience, performing Internet searches for even a relatively short period of time can change brain activity patterns and enhance function,"

The first brain scan of the participants with only a bare minimum of Internet experience showed neurological activity in the areas of the brain controlling language, memory, reading, and visual abilities.

When this same group of notice Internet users were scanned a second time, after about one week of home experience on the Web, the fMRI scans showed further enhancement of these same regions of the brain.

The researchers also found, however, that there was new activity in the middle frontal gyrus (which makes up about one-third of the frontal lobe of the brain) and inferior frontal gyrus (which is a gyrus of the frontal lobe of the brain) regions of the brain.

These two areas of the brain direct working memory and decision making abilities.

In fact, the researchers found that the group of novice users of the Internet showed similar brain patterns as the experienced group of Internet users.

The authors suggest that performing Internet searchers and using the Web for various activities on a regular basis may be “… a simple form of brain exercise that might be employed to enhance cognition in older adults.” [MSNBC]

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