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Technology and the Aging Brain

Updated: Feb 17, 2019


When things go wrong, older people like to blame technology. The truth is that technology can help older people maintain what is most important to many of them – their brain health.


Learning something new is a great way to exercise the brain, and technology constantly forces us to learn new skills. If you are reading this and you know how to use emojis, understand GIFs, have a social media account and text a lot, you are a living example of just how adaptive a person can be.


If you're a caregiver for an older person, chances are that your charge isn't quite as tech-savvy as you are, but that doesn't mean that he or she can't benefit from technology. The benefits can be three-fold.


Using Technology Can Stimulate the Brain

One study found that searching the Internet for an hour a day improved brain function in middle-aged and elderly individuals. MRIs were used to evaluate the changes. The areas that were stimulated were those that govern reasoning and decision-making. Also, the more experienced a person was at doing such searches, the more benefit was seen.


Some elderly individuals may not be quite up to Internet searches, which require some fairly sophisticated skills. Playing games on a tablet or computer can also stimulate the brain, and touchscreen technology can make it easier for older individuals. For example, a person can play solitaire without having to physically arrange the cards, or do a crossword puzzle without having to enter letters into small squares. And although the game may be familiar, figuring out how to do it on a tablet or computer requires learning new skills.


Listening to music is also stimulating to the brain, and finding something to listen to is easier than ever since music has gone digital. Experts say that listening to unfamiliar music is more challenging than listening to old favorites, but listening to music from an earlier time can stimulate memory.


Using Technology Can Provide Social Connections

Many older people are physically isolated from family and friends, and social isolation has been shown to be devastating to the elderly. Through technology they can maintain social connections even when they are physically removed.


Texting is a great way for older people to communicate. It's simpler than email and not so prone to spam and junk. It also works for those who may be hard of hearing. For those who hear well, phone calls work well, and FaceTime or Skype is even better. Seeing the faces of loved ones is an extra bonus.


Facebook and other social media platforms can be used to keep up with the activities of friends and family. In addition, Facebook is a great platform for those with particular enthusiasms. There are Facebook groups for collectors, sports fans, history buffs and hobbyists of all stripes.


Besides keeping up with those you already know, it's entirely possible to make virtual friends and forge close connections with people you meet while playing games or sharing hobbies. Of course, older people should be taught how to stay safe by never sharing personal information.


Physical Fitness Matters, Too

We must never forget, however, that the brain is part of the physical body. Generally, any activity that exercises the heart is good for the brain. So hours and hours spent in front of a computer or using a tablet could be bad for the brain, if it takes the place of movement.


Still, technology can be tapped to improve physical fitness, too. Fitness trackers are popular ways to monitor and improve a person's activity level. Apps can monitor heart rates. And YouTube has a wealth of workout routines for all fitness levels. The bottom line is that technology is not the enemy. Instead, it can be a powerful ally in the quest for brain health, both for caregivers and for those they take care of.


Sources

· Barbarotta, Linda. “Fighting Isolation With Technology.” Leading Age. 24 June 2014. http://www.leadingage.org/magazine/julyaugust-2014/fighting-isolation-technology


· Champeau, Rachel. “UCLA Study Finds that Searching the Internet Increases Brain Function.” UCLA Newsroom. 14 October 2008. http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/ucla-study-finds-that-searching-64348


· Godman, Heidi. “Regular Exercise Changes the Brain to Improve Memory, Thinking Skills.” Harvard Health Publishing. 9 April 2014. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/regular-exercise-changes-brain-improve-memory-thinking-skills-201404097110


· “Keep Your Brain Young With Music.” Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy_aging/healthy_mind/keep-your-brain-young-with-music


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