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Boosting Brain Power

Ivanhoe Newswire

(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Just like lifting weights makes your muscles stronger, working out your brain improves thinking and concentration.

Researchers from Wake Forest University reported results from the first 23 patients in their Brain Fitness in Older Adults study. The "brain training" in the study consisted of either a one-on-one mental fitness program or a group brain exercise program.

In the one-on-one sessions, people (ages 65 to 75) were asked to ignore distracting information. Tasks got harder as the training progressed. In group sessions, patients learned new information relevant to healthy aging and were tested on their ability to apply the new information. Researchers employed functional MRI (fMRI) to visualize blood flow and brain activity to assess how attention training affects brain function. All participants got an fMRI scan while they completed a task that required them to look for target words or numbers while ignoring distracting sounds.

The fMRI scans show brain activity in areas related to both sight and sound. Researchers found activity related to sight increased in those receiving one-on-one training, while activity related to sound decreased. Overall, performance on the task improved.

"Behavioral and imaging data support our hypothesis that attention training can reduce multi-sensory integration. This suggests that attention training is a potential way to improve sensory processing by reducing older adults' susceptibility to distracting stimuli," reported Jennifer Mozolic, a Wake Forest graduate student, in a press release issued by the school.

The skill to block out distractions and improve concentration is a welcome step forward for older adults. Paul Laurienti, M.D., Ph.D., from Wake Forest, reports when people age, changes occur in how they perceive the information their eyes and ears gather. Older adults combine information from different senses more readily than younger adults in a tendency known as sensory integration. That often leads to trouble focusing on important information and tasks as it becomes more and more difficult to block out distracting sights and sounds.

Mozolic reports, "Our early data suggest that attention training is indeed a way to reduce older adults' susceptibility to distracting stimuli and improve concentration."

This article was reported by Ivanhoe.com, which offers Medical Alerts by e-mail every day of the week. To subscribe, click on: http://www.ivanhoe.com/newsalert/.

SOURCE: Presented at the Organization for Human Brain Mapping 13th Annual Meeting in Chicago, June 10-14, 2007

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