Old dogs and new tricks: web use good for the elderly brain

Paul Raven @ 23-10-2009

A silver surferYounger readers (or those with spousal units prone to nagging about excessive time spent in front of a computer) may wish to arm themselves with the news that internet use appears to restore and strengthen brain function, particularly in the elderly. In other words, surfing the web is keeping your brain young and fit. [via The End Of Cyberspace; image by mhofstrand]

For the research, 24 neurologically normal adults, aged 55 to 78, were asked to surf the Internet while hooked up to an MRI machine. Before the study began, half the participants had used the Internet daily, and the other half had little experience with it.

After an initial MRI scan, the participants were instructed to do Internet searches for an hour on each of seven days in the next two weeks. They then returned to the clinic for more brain scans.

“At baseline, those with prior Internet experience showed a much greater extent of brain activation,” Small said.

After at-home practice, however, those who had just been introduced to the Internet were catching up to those who were old hands, the study found.

Of course, this doesn’t take into account the theory that the structure of the web means we only ever get exposed to ideas that we already find agreeable, but I remain unconvinced of that notion, anyway. A brief glance at history shows that people were always perfectly capable of ignoring information that they found unpalatable, long before the internet (or even the printing press) existed…

But while you’re advising grandma to fire up Firefox, be sure to remind her that it’s an aid to learning, not a replacement for it. Recent research shows that we learn much more quickly if we take a chance to answer incorrectly before looking up the correct response… so try guessing before you Google it, in other words.

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One Response to “Old dogs and new tricks: web use good for the elderly brain”

  1. Rick York says:

    It’s nice to know that the surfing I’ve been doing since the early 90’s – on a 28.8 modem, mind you – has paid off. I’m 65. I’ve been reading SF since 1951, started working on Big Iron in 1973 and moved on to “minis” in 1977 then on to what we called “micros” (PC’s to you whippersnappers) in 1984. I’ve managed to keep most of my brain cells.

    And, as you know Paul, I’m a big fan of Futurismic. I’m still waiting for my jet pack and the breakthrough that gives us FTL.

    Oh, I’ve had more wrong answers in my life than I care to count.