‘Think again’ begins the headline in an article busting the myth that brains inevitably deteriorate with age. NOT SO, say scientists at Columbia University. They examined the brains of people who were cognitively healthy, who had died suddenly from a whole range of ages, and found that even the brains of the oldest contained thousands of newly formed neurons. New neurons are necessary for learning and coping with stress. Neurogenesis has been thought to cease after a certain age, but the study, published in the journal Cell Stem Cell, has shown otherwise.

It’s important, because as neuroscientist Duncan Banks at the Open University said, ‘Neurogenesis is thought to be necessary to prevent mental decay and decline.  This study provides further evidence that mental decay and decline is not the inevitable process many of us think it is.’  (The Times, April 6, 2018).

The take-away message is from Columbia University’s Maura Boldrini, who said that neurogenesis is supported by lifestyle changes like social interaction, learning, exercise and diet.  ‘These are all life changes that people could introduce to keep them healthy in old age.’

Walking in the park

Perhaps a good idea would be for groups of people to take a brisk walk together, stopping for a cup of tea and salad lunch and then take a class learning a foreign language.

Louise Morse

Louise Morse MA (CBT) is media and external relations manager for the Pilgrims’ Friend Society. She is a writer and speaker, and author of books on issues of old age, including dementia, published by Lion Monarch and SPCK. She is a cognitive behavioural therapist, and her Masters’ dissertation examined the effects of caring for a loved one with dementia on close relatives.

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