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Training benefits brains in older people, counters aging factors

Too old to learn new skills? By golly, think again. New research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign shows that training re-ignites key areas of the brain, offsetting some age-related declines and boosting performance.

The findings, involving functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), provide the first visible evidence for a relationship between behavioral performance and cortical processors involved in dual-task processing, said Arthur F. Kramer, a professor of psychology and researcher at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology.

The study -- published online this month in advance of regular publication by the journal Neurobiology of Aging -- also adds to other emerging data that refute the idea that opposite brain areas become activated to help aging people compensate for a loss of cognition. Older studies, Kramer said, did not look at the impacts of training.

For the new study, researchers in Kramer's lab looked at areas of the brain known to be associated with executive control -- scheduling, planning, juggling multiple tasks and working memory. These areas, the ventral and dorsal prefrontal cortexes, are tied to cognitive declines in aging.

Participants were 32 men and women, ages 55 to 80, and 31 younger adults. They were divided into control and experimental groups, with the latter receiving training on a time-measured task of identifying green or yellow Xs and/or whether a letter on the computer monitor was a B or C. Researchers then analyzed comprehensive fMRI data compiled before and after training of various parts of the brain and of changes in performance and times involving the tasks.

Before and after results were dramatic in ventral regions of the brain, said lead author Kirk I. Erickson, a psychology postdoctoral research associate.

"You can see," Erickson said as he pointed to graphs showing results of activity in the left ventral region, "that even though the older a
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Contact: Jim Barlow, Life Sciences Editor
jebarlow@uiuc.edu
217-333-5802
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
16-Feb-2006


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