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Even as You Age, Brain Function Can Improve

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“Oh, I’m too old to learn something new,” my mother used to tell me. Sorry, Mom, but you were wrong. Our brain evolves and changes and, in some ways, gets better with age.

It’s true that cognitive changes, such as mild forgetfulness and taking longer to learn a skill, may happen as we get older. But according to a recent study of mental skills in more than 700 adults ages 58 to 98, some brain functions may improve with age. Specifically, older adults had a greater ability to focus their attention and were better than younger adults at ignoring distractions when doing a task.

Published in August 2021 in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, the study found that the ability to ignore distractions and focus on pertinent information increased at least into people’s mid- to late 70s. More importantly, even the oldest adults were no worse at ignoring distractions than the youngest, the study reported.

Also keep in mind that different brain skills seem to peak at different ages. A March 2015 study of more than 48,000 people ages 16 to 89 found that social-understanding skills peaked between ages 45 and 55 and that verbal knowledge (vocabulary, the ability to explain information, for example), peaked at age 65-plus.

So how do you support a healthy brain into your 70s and beyond? Here are some suggestions.

  • Break out of your routine. Get out of your comfort zone. If you always do crossword puzzles, try a math puzzle. Give your brain a new challenge. Studies suggest that novelty rewards the brain and speeds up learning. Read more to find out how it can even rekindle the spark of romance.
  • Connect with others. Those who are more socially engaged tend to have healthier brains, according to “The Brain and Social Connectedness” report from the Global Council on Brain Health.

Learn more on AARP® Staying Sharp®

This content is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide any expert, professional or specialty advice or recommendations. Readers are urged to consult with their medical providers for all questions.

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