Sam Wang, neuroscientist at Princeton University, talks about how a mentally engaged lifestyle is the best training for the brain.
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Sam Wang on the Elderly Brain I have never been to brain gym and I think it would be a fun experience. So brain gyms obviously playing a fear that by napping mentally engage, we will some how you know it is a use or lose it kind of thing. And there is grand of truth is which is that one little things that you can do to keep your brain happy and functioning well as you get older is to have a mentally engage lifestyle. So the number one correlative routine caught in a function as people get older is educational status. And it is not clear whether that’s because being educated gives you the tools to led a more engage life or whether maybe if you are not more intellectually engaged person, you might be the kind of person who would go to college and graduate school. So it is not you know it is chicken egg problem but on either case that’s the number one correlate. In general, individual’s tasks that you learn when you play brain games and you go to brain gyms tend to only increase your capacity at that particular tasks or tasks at that type and they tend to lead the small benefits. And so I think a lot this exercises don’t lead to large benefits. Now it could be that during a lot this different things is something like a full body work out and it could be that there is some moderate benefit. But I think that people who go to those should really remember not only the intellectual principle right of a sound mind but also the sound body principle and so I think in a such gym should include what we talked about earlier fitness training. So there are different kinds of cognitive and memory loss that occur with aging. Certain kinds of memory loss such as forgetting where your car keys are part of the normal process of getting older and in fact, memory peaks surprisingly early at age of 30 and then declines gradually with time. So forgetting where your keys are is not a cause of particular concern. And then there is dementia which is forgetting say that you know like the old saying goes that if you forget where your glasses are, that’s normal memory loss. If you forget the fact that you wear glasses, that’s dementia and so there are different degrees to this, so just normal memory loss is not cause of concern. It’s not well understood exactly what physically underlies this although possible candidates are loss of the brain’s ability to form new connections or to easily modulate the weight of the connections between nerve cells. Those are called synaptic weights and so those would be candidates for why the brain seems to be less plastic in certain ways as we get older. But it is not super well understood. Now there is another category of memory loss. This severe decline in a form of dementia and the thing that’s understood there is that you can look at the brain of people who after death diagnoses having Alzheimer’s disease and they have plaques and tangles that appear to be either the causes of cell death or perhaps the residue, the after math of cell death. And this plaques and tangles seemed to be at the root certain kinds of cognitive loss and that’s something that’s studied now is a pretty active area of research and the current goal is to try to find ways to stay off those cognitive losses by in few years because as we live longer having a few years becomes very important.