So It’s Not All Downhill Once You Turn 58

An international team of researchers, in a  study of hundreds of older people, found two key brain functions which improve with age.

For their study, the team looked at three separate components of attention and executive function in 702 participants ages 58 to 98, when cognition often changes the most. The brain networks are involved in alerting, orienting, and executive inhibition. Alerting is characterized by a state of enhanced vigilance and preparedness in order to respond to incoming information. Orienting involves shifting brain resources to a particular location. The executive network shuts out distracting or conflicting information.

Dr Joao Verissimo, of the University of Lisbon, and lead author of the research study, offers a simple example of the three separate components:

“We use all three processes constantly. For example, when you are driving a car, alerting is your increased preparedness when you approach an intersection. Orienting occurs when you shift your attention to an unexpected movement, such as a pedestrian. And executive function allows you to inhibit distractions such as birds or billboards so you can stay focused on driving.”

Remarkably, only alerting abilities were found to decline with age. In contrast, both orienting and executive inhibition actually got better. The latter two skills allow people to selectively attend to objects, and improve with lifelong practice.

This discovery could lead to better therapies for Alzheimer’s disease.

“These results are amazing, and have important consequences for how we should view aging,” says senior investigator Michael Ullman, Ph.D., a co-author on the study and a professor in the Department of Neuroscience at Georgetown University, and director of its Brain and Language Lab.

I don’t know enough about these brain functions, but it seems to me that orienting and executive function are opposites of each other.

Orienting enables you to shift your attention when something unexpected happens, while executive function allows you to inhibit distractions.

It reminds me of the oft-repeated joke about squirrels in the wonderful movie “Up“:

So whenever Dug the Dog sees a squirrel it seems like he is practicing orienting and doing the exact opposite of executive function. (By the way, the voice of Carl, the old man, is the recently departed Ed Asner).

But despite this confusion on my part, I am happy to see that parts of our brain get better with age.

I just hope that my executive function is stronger than my orienting function when it comes to using social media. I don’t think I’m quite there yet.

What I found most interesting…

Oops, gotta go. Someone just liked one of my posts…

source: StudyFinds

*image from Institute for Applied Psychometrics

71 thoughts on “So It’s Not All Downhill Once You Turn 58

  1. I don’t need the alerting function as much now that I’m older. What use do I have for enhanced vigilance and preparedness in order to respond to incoming information when I’m usually not going to understand the info anyway? 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well I am alert when I read your blog which is certainly entertaining so I guess that is a good thing, but I never remember them after the fact. Does that mean they are like a billboard? If that is the case I am still distracted for a short period of time. Nothing wrong with an entertaining distraction but I have to wonder if any part of my brain is improving or if it is just totally confused. Interesting info for sure.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Hmm. All I know is in the last five years, I have struggled more with speaking (I seem to stutter more), my typing isn’t as fast or as accurate, and I forget who I’ve told things to. I remember I told somebody, but I don’t remember who it was. It’s all a bit concerning. I try to laugh it off as old age, but it frankly scares the hell out of me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would focus on all you have accomplished in the past five years – getting in the best shape of your life, writing a wonderful book, and ready to publish a second book. that is amazing…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Might that be why I can’t see things when I’m looking at them?
    As well as my alerting function declining, I’m clearly able to screen things out. But how do I convince my brain that the thing I’m looking for isn’t a distraction to be inhibited?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. As I reach the tail end of my 58th year, I’m happy to learn that *most* of my brain is still improving. This year has been far better than the last three in terms of mood, confidence and patience. Perhaps these are the changes I look forward to expanding from now until I’m 98.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Good question, but given that you’re an accountant I think you need to check your numbers! You’re a few years out: they started in 1962 so it would be their 70th in 11 years time…

        Is age a requirement for music to be called ‘classical?’ A good topic for discussion I think.


      2. Fair point. I was going by their recorded output, which began in 1962 with the release of Love Me Do, though they were part of a single earlier that year with Tony Sheridan. Most accounts have them meeting around 1957, and via several incarnations becoming Beatles around 1960. So we’re both right!

        A good definition of classical music. My ex-wife called it ‘music to slit your wrists to,’ which I always thought a little harsh: some of it is lovely!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. The Wikipedia article is more detailed…

        Vivaldi, Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Haydn, Elgar and more… Two particular favourites of mine are the Mozart clarinet concerto K622 and Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. Many others, too 😊

        Liked by 1 person

      4. If you can believe it…

        If you do, it’s the second movement of the Mozart, the Adagio – you might recognise it from the Out Of Africa movie. It moves me to tears. With the Beethoven, the first movement is one of the most uplifting pieces of music I know.

        Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.