Archive for the ‘brain scaffolding theory’ Category

Working Longer May Improve Cognitive Health

September 16, 2014

boomerworking1While some baby boomers may be finding it necessary to continue working beyond age 65, they may be benefiting their cognitive health as well as their financial health.

Researchers are finding that continuing to engage in intellectual activities and new experiences keeps the brain running efficiently. They have developed the theory of “scaffolding” which holds that in such situations the aging brain develops new circuits that help people respond to cognitive challenges.

The scaffolding theory suggests that the aging brain, when confronted with the joint challenge of declining neural resources and a cognitively demanding task, develops “scaffolds”—new circuitry that helps maintain task performance. Evidence for neural scaffolding emerges from functional imaging studies showing that older adults typically engage more brain tissue than young adults when performing a demanding cognitive task, and that this additional activity is in a region in the opposite hemisphere from an area active in young adults as well or in an area larger than that seen in the young adults. It is believed that this additional scaffolding is compensating for areas of the brain that are functioning somewhat less efficiently than in younger adults.

We have a long way to go in learning about the aging mind and how to preserve its vitality. New imaging tools are allowing us to take giant steps as we examine these questions further. One of the premier challenges of the 21st century lies in determining what behaviors will protect neural health and then developing public health initiatives to encourage these behaviors in our communities. Sound social policies that encourage older people to keep working could have direct benefits to our economic system. It could even result in later onset of dementing illnesses, an outcome that offers gains for society thanks to reduced caregiving and health care costs, as well as extended time with beloved family members.

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