The Bright Side of Mental Aging

                With nootropics, so much of the focus is on enriching the power of the mind while also preventing it from declining later in life.  We can’t help but focus on losing cognitive function if we’re investing in keeping our brains healthy; but what if age-related declines weren’t the whole story?

                It turns out that some things do get better as we age!  New research from Georgetown University Medical Center gives us something to be optimistic about as we settle into the aging process.  We knew that focus could improve with age, and so much of the research we have about nootropics is focused on supporting healthy brain function while aging. 

              This month, information about attention and focus shines a light on the bright side of cognitive executive functioning in older individuals.  Focus and attention are part of the brain’s executive functions and are broken down into three key parts which work together simultaneously with different parts of the brain and neurochemicals. 

             Alerting is the ability to respond to sensory input; orienting is the reallocation of brain signals to react to physical changes or threats in the 3D physical environment; and executive inhibition is the ability of the brain to filter the sensory input from what’s important in the given moment versus what is just distraction.

           Following healthy adults aged 58-98 years old, the study found that it was only the alerting portion which declined with age, while orienting and executive inhibition became better over time!  Researchers believe that it’s because all the skills necessary for orienting and executive inhibition can be consciously controlled and improved upon over the course of a lifetime, but alerting isn’t something that can be practiced.

          We can do everything in our power to keep our brains healthy now and as we get older, but it’s great to have a new perspective that tells us it’s not always a downward slope when it comes to cognition in the older brain.

Further Reading

Veríssimo, J., Verhaeghen, P., Goldman, N. et al. Evidence that ageing yields improvements as well as declines across attention and executive functions. Nat Hum Behav (2021).

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