Currently viewing the tag: "dendrites"


How can seniors both reduce the effects of aging on the brain and give back to society? By tutoring children, that’s how. And it is exactly what thousands of elders are doing–teaching kids how to read, write and do math–giving many of the older folk a renewed sense of purpose.

According to a recent study, seniors who have volunteered for Experience Corps, a program matching elementary students in low-income schools with seniors who serve as tutors, showed improvements in the “executive function” regions of the brain involved in thinking and the ability to organize multiple tasks. The children had much greater reading comprehension and ability to sound out words compared to kids who were not tutored.

The study looked at eight women considered high risk of cognitive impairment because of their low income status, low education level [they had only completed an average of 12 years of school (high school)] and low scores on a cognition test. Researchers say that these preliminary results are encouraging, especially if they can carry over to prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.

Very nice. And no surprise to me. I know how important keeping the mind sharp is to staying young and vibrant. Obvious? Not really. The process of learning is instrumental in creating new dendrites, which leads to new processing pathways formed in the brain. New processing pathways = youth. Old processing pathways = wisdom. Youth + wisdom = vibrancy, influence and growth. Who doesn’t value that?

Research shows that keeping the mind conditioned through systematic mental exercise can protect against dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Yes, physical exercise helps too–particularly cardiovascular work–and we know how vital staying social is to warding off cognitive decline; but when it comes to maximal brain function and protection, nothing beats good old fashioned learning.

On a final note, there is evidence that having “purpose” can actually prolong life–and volunteering is one phenomenal way to go about it. A recent study showed that retirees over age 65 who volunteered had less than half the risk of dying compared to their non-volunteering peers. Now that’s impressive. If you love helping others, consider volunteering your time and mental prowess to teaching children how to read and solve equations. Really, it’s a win-win situation–they get smarter and you keep trucking. Now what can be better than that?


Want a new tool in your anti-aging arsenal? Try gaming. Video gaming that is. New research suggests that playing video games might just help slow down the effects of aging on mental function. And you thought Grand Theft Auto was just for psychos.

According to experts, playing video games can improve older adults’ reflexes, processing speed, memory, attention skills and spatial abilities. Not bad, not bad. And gaming systems like Nintendo’s Wii could even provide seniors with some physical activity. For those who don’t know, the Wii has special controllers requiring hand and arm movements. Although not an ideal form of physical fitness in my humble opinion, some movement is certainly better than nothing.

Saying that, one study did find that seniors playing the Wii bowling game had boosted heart rate during the activity. The study’s participants were between 60-80-years-old.

As far as improved cognitive function, a 2008 study which looked at 60-70-year-olds playing the computer game, Rise of Nations, found that the participants had increased performance on tests of memory, reasoning and cognition. Especially notable were improvements in planning, scheduling, dealing with ambiguity and multi-tasking. Now that’s pretty darn substantial in my book.

Associate professor of psychology at North Carolina State University, Jason Allaire is co-director of its Gains Through Gaming Lab. The Lab has received $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation for further research and how gaming can boost memory and thinking skills in the elderly. Bravo to that!

Researchers plan to focus on three fundamental areas of cognition:

  • Attention demand–most video games require deep attention and focus, useful skills to every area of life
  • Novelty–learning new things creates new dendritic formation, a must in keeping mentally sharp
  • Social interaction–video gaming is often done with others, and now with online gaming…well, a new social outlet is here for the taking

My regular readers know how much I value maintaining mental sharpness. As long as your brain is firing, you are interacting as a conscious life form (I know that’s debatable, but play along). And when you are firing on all cylinders, watch out! Do I think playing video games is better than learning a language, mathematics or an instrument–no, I don’t. But as a supplement, or for people who just can’t bring themselves to become more academic, heck play a video game–they’re fun!

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