Part of the brain stays "youthful" into older age

August 7, 2014
Brain diagram. Credit:

(Medical Xpress)—At least one part of the human brain may be able to process information the same way in older age as it does in the prime of life, according to new research conducted at the University of Adelaide.

A study compared the ability of 60 older and younger people to respond to visual and non-visual stimuli in order to measure their "spatial attention" skills.

Spatial attention is critical for many aspects of life, from driving, to walking, to picking up and using objects.

"Our studies have found that older and younger adults perform in a similar way on a range of visual and non-visual tasks that measure spatial attention," says Dr Joanna Brooks, who conducted the study as a Visiting Research Fellow with the University of Adelaide's School of Psychology and the School of Medicine.

"Both younger (aged 18-38 years) and older (55-95 years) adults had the same responses for spatial attention tasks involving touch, sight or sound.

"In one task, participants were asked to feel wooden objects whilst blindfolded and decide where the middle of the object was – participants' judgements were significantly biased towards the left-hand side of the true object centre. This bias is subtle but highly consistent," Dr Brooks says.

"When we think of ageing, we think not just of the physical aspects but also the cognitive side of it, especially when it comes to issues such as reaction time, which is typically slower among older adults. However, our research suggests that certain types of cognitive systems in the right cerebral hemisphere – like spatial attention – are 'encapsulated' and may be protected from ageing," she says.

Dr Brooks, who is now a Research Fellow in Healthy Ageing based at the Australian National University, recently presented her results at the 12th International Cognitive Neuroscience Conference in Brisbane. Her project is part of an international collaboration with scientists at the University of Edinburgh and Queen Margaret University in Scotland to better understand spatial attention in the .

"Our results challenge current models of cognitive ageing because they show that the right side of the brain remains dominant for spatial processing throughout the entire adult lifespan," Dr Brooks says. "We now need to better understand how and why some areas of the brain seem to be more affected by ageing than others."

Dr Brooks's research could also be helpful in better understanding how diseases such as Alzheimer's affect the brain.

Explore further: Do certain parts of the brain stay young?

Related Stories

Do certain parts of the brain stay young?

July 29, 2013

(Medical Xpress)—New research at the University of Adelaide is looking at how the human brain ages, which could lead to insights into how to repair the brain when it's damaged by stroke or traumatic brain injury.

New simulator for older drivers is put to the test

April 16, 2014

University of Adelaide researchers are hoping that a new computer-based driving simulation will help lead to accurate, low-cost testing of older drivers' ability to stay safe on the roads.

Older adults have morning brains

August 6, 2014

Older adults who are tested at their optimal time of day (the morning), not only perform better on demanding cognitive tasks but also activate the same brain networks responsible for paying attention and suppressing distraction ...

Short sleep, aging brain

July 1, 2014

Researchers at Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore (Duke-NUS) have found evidence that the less older adults sleep, the faster their brains age. These findings, relevant in the context of Singapore's rapidly ageing ...

Recommended for you

Rat brain atlas provides MR images for stereotaxic surgery

October 21, 2016

Boris Odintsov, senior research scientist at the Biomedical Imaging Center at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, and Thomas Brozoski, research professor ...

ALS study reveals role of RNA-binding proteins

October 20, 2016

Although only 10 percent of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) cases are hereditary, a significant number of them are caused by mutations that affect proteins that bind RNA, a type of genetic material. University of California ...

Imaging technique maps serotonin activity in living brains

October 20, 2016

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that's partly responsible for feelings of happiness and for mood regulation in humans. This makes it a common target for antidepressants, which block serotonin from being reabsorbed by neurons ...

Overcoming egocentricity increases self-control

October 19, 2016

Neurobiological models of self-control usually focus on brain mechanisms involved in impulse control and emotion regulation. Recent research at the University of Zurich shows that the mechanism for overcoming egocentricity ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.