The sophisticated imaging technologies and data analysis techniques are helping scientists every day to refine what is known about the human brain, and expand their knowledge and understanding to better identify, treat, and prevent diseases and health conditions. There have been a number of studies this year that are not only interesting for what data and insight they have revealed, but could also motivate us in living a more brain-healthy lifestyle.
Researchers from Weill Cornell Medicine were able to use imaging to literally observe the memories in the brain. What they gleaned from this research is that the basic recollection of an experience may be stored in one part of the brain, but the sensory experiences of that same memory may be found in a different area. An unforgettable time at a restaurant, for example, is not just about the food. All the different parts of the memory, such as the odors, music, decor, conversations, and every other feature may combine to form the picture of the night. Later, any single one of these impressions being recalled may be sufficient to bring back the entire experience.
A study performed by Baycrest Health in Toronto found that bird watchers are better able to remember things. Research revealed that people who engage in the hobby regularly are able to develop a sort of mental scaffolding, which they use to categorize all the different birds, and it has the added benefit of providing all around memory reinforcement. The good news is that if you’re not a bird fan, researchers assure that other obsessions are also of benefit. Whether you’re a sports fan, an avid Lord of the Rings reader, or any other hobby, we can all reap the benefits of the mental boost it provides.
A common joke among seniors is along the lines of “I can’t remember, my brain is too full!”, which may be more than a joke. A study published in Trends in Cognitive Science showed analogies with a computer hard drive might not be too far from the truth. When a person accesses their memories, the brain quickly sifts through everything stored in it to find the relevant information. As we age, many of us have difficulty retrieving memories in this overcrowded memoryscape. The upside, however, is that it also enhances creativity and improves decision-making skills.
Another study done in February of 2022 went into the benefits of pet ownership. Data from the research showed that seniors who own a pet have slower rates of cognitive decline. Stress negatively affects cognitive function, so the stress buffering effects of pet ownership could be a plausible explanation for the research findings. Another benefit is owning a pet can also increase physical activity, which in turn benefits cognitive health.
Research done in June of 2022 used MRI imaging to show that socially isolated people had a lower volume of brain area involved in memory and learning. In short, the effects of loneliness are visible in the brain. For many seniors, the threat of social isolation looms large, making it very important to build and maintain social networks and connections in our old age.