Findings, suggest that Internet training can brain improve function and cognition in older adults. Scientists found that middle-aged and older adults were able to trigger key centers in the brain that control decision-making and complex reasoning after just one week of surfing the Web.
The researchers found that for older people with minimal experience, performing Internet searches for even a relatively short period of time can change brain activity patterns and enhance function. According to this article, the UCLA team worked with 24 volunteers between the ages of 55 and 78. Prior to the study, half the participants used the Internet daily, while the other half had very little experience. Age, educational level and gender were similar between the two groups. Study participants performed Web searches while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans, which recorded the subtle brain-circuitry changes experienced during this activity. This type of scan tracks brain activity by measuring the level of cerebral blood flow during cognitive tasks. After the initial brain scan, participants went home and conducted Internet searches for one hour a day for a total of seven days over a two-week period. These practice searches involved using the Internet to answer questions about various topics by exploring different websites and reading information. Participants then received a second brain scan using the same Internet simulation task but with different topics. After Internet training at home, participants with minimal online experience displayed brain activation patterns very similar to those seen in the group of savvy Internet users – after just a brief period of time.
“The results suggest that searching online may be a simple form of brain exercise that might be employed to enhance cognition in older adults,” said Teena D. Moody, the study’s first author and a senior research associate at the Semel Institute at UCLA. When performing an Internet search, the ability to hold important information in working memory and to extract the important points from competing graphics and words is essential, Moody noted. Previous research by the UCLA team found that searching online resulted in a more than twofold increase in brain activation in older adults with prior experience, compared with those with little Internet experience. The new findings suggest that it may take only days for those with minimal experience to match the activity levels of those with years of experience.