Locally, UC Davis is working on research that asks the question, UC Davis Health System Feature Story: Can the oldest living tree help prevent dementia? The Gingko tree is the sole surviving species of a group of Gymnosperms that flourished 65 million years ago, the time when dinosaurs existed. If you’re looking for media suitable for the various stages of aging, look to the culture first and then within the culture, look to research in how diet can be tailored to genes.
“While some memory loss occurs as part of normal aging, many people can and do remain active and mentally alert,” said John Robbins, UC Davis professor of internal medicine, in the UC Davis Health System website article, “Can the oldest living tree help prevent dementia?”
“Researchers across the nation are studying the impact of factors like genes, diet, environmental conditions and herbal supplements to better understand the characteristics, qualities and habits of those who age well. Some scientists look at diet, genes, and herbal supplements and other scientists look at similar variables to find a potential to develop commercial drugs all with the same goal: to slow down aging, memory loss, or to increase longevity.
Sacramento artist and chef, the late Sally Tucker, used to advise readers of mainstream media and viewers of popular culture to adjust their reading material as they age because, “brain connections evolve with age.” Now it looks like what’s happening are the unavoidable breakdowns in brain connections that slow down our physical response times as we age, a new study suggests, according to an August 18, 2010 University of Michigan News Service press release, “Brain Connections Break Down As We Age.”
This slower reactivity is associated with an age-related breakdown in the corpus callosum, a part of the brain that acts as a dam during one-sided motor activities to prevent unwanted connectivity, or cross-talk, between the two halves of the brain, said Rachael Seidler, associate professor in the University of Michigan School of Kinesiology and Department of Psychology, and lead study author.
At other times the corpus callosum acts at a bridge and cross-talk is helpful, such as in certain cognitive functions or two-sided motor skills.
The U-M study is the first known to show that this cross-talk happens even while older adults are at rest, said Seidler, who also has appointments in the Institute of Gerontology and the Neuroscience Graduate Program. This resting cross-talk suggests that it is not helpful or compensatory for the two halves of the brain to communicate during one-sided motor movements because the opposite side of the brain controls the part of the body that is moving. So, when both sides of the brain talk simultaneously while one side of the body tries to move, confusion and slower responses result, Seidler said.
Previous studies have shown that cross-talk in the brain during certain motor tasks increases with age but it wasn’t clear if that cross-talk helped or hindered brain function, said Seidler in the University of Michigan news release of August 18, 2010.
“Cross-talk is not a function of task difficulty, because we see these changes in the brain when people are not moving,” Seidler said in the news release.
In some diseases where the corpus callosum is very deteriorated, such as in people with multiple sclerosis, you can see “mirror movements” during one sided-motor tasks, where both sides move in concert because there is so much communication between the two hemispheres of the brain, Seidler said. These mirror movements also happen normally in very young children before the corpus callosum is fully developed.
In the study, researchers gave joysticks to adults between the ages of 65 and 75 and measured and compared their response times against a group approximately 20-25 years old.
Researchers then used a functional MRI to image the blood-oxygen levels in different parts of the brain, a measurement of brain activity.
“The more they recruited the other side of the brain, the slower they responded,” Seidler said.
However there is hope, and just because we inevitably age doesn’t mean it’s our fate to react more slowly. Seidler’s group is working on developing and piloting motor training studies that might rebuild or maintain the corpus callosum to limit overflow between hemispheres, she said.
A previous study done by another group showed that doing aerobic training for three months helped to rebuild the corpus callosum, she said, which suggests that physical activity can help to counteract the effects of the age-related degeneration.
Seidler’s group also has a study in review that uses the same brain imaging techniques to examine disease related brain changes in Parkinson’s patients.
The study appeared in the journal, Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience. The University of Michigan School of Kinesiology continues to be a leader in the areas of prevention and rehabilitation, the business of sport, understanding lifelong health and mobility, and achieving health across the lifespan through physical activity.
The School of Kinesiology is home to the Athletic Training, Movement Science, Physical Education, and Sport Management academic programs—bringing together leaders in physiology, biomechanics, public health, urban planning, economics, marketing, public policy, and education and behavioral science.
So for those interested in media and culture, should you change the type of media you view or read as you age? Think about how many seniors show up in movie theaters compared to how many are spending afternoons at public libraries, lifelong learning activities, or afternoon social clubs, assuming they’re not traveling?
The media treats older adults as if they’re earning less the older they are instead of spending their savings, pensions, and perks. It’s as if there’s a digital divide in the media between the older adults who are ‘haves’ and the older adults who frequent senior centers’ $2.00 lunches who are address as “have-nots” in various media targeting the older adult readership.