We used to think that the brain grew until early adulthood and then stopped. We also used to think that we each had a fixed, unchanging, amount of intelligence. And, sadly, that cognitive decline was invariably associated with aging.
Over the past several decades, neuro-scientists have discovered otherwise!
Research shows that the brain continues to grow and change when challenged by new experiences, and this can occur throughout the lifespan. Scientists call this ability “neuroplasticity.”
As Lumosity explains:
“Your brain’s billions of neurons — its cellular building blocks — interact with each other in complex ways. Signals travel from one neuron to another down intricate neural pathways whose structures determine your thoughts, impulses, emotions, insights, and more.
As our brains develop throughout childhood, these neural pathways change: less-used pathways are pruned away while pathways that you use regularly grow stronger. Every task you do relies on a different neural pathway.
Neuroplasticity is your brain’s ability to create new neural pathways and reshape existing ones, even as an adult. Your brain makes these small changes naturally throughout your lifetime.”
As an example, Lumosity explains that a “study of over 2,000 elderly adults in 2002 suggests that even older brains have plenty of room to improve and learn” (Ball, et al., 2002). After spending 10 hours over the course of six weeks, 87% of elderly participants who completed speed of processing training gained skills that transferred to real-world abilities: they self-reported experiencing less decline in their ability to perform basic daily activities.”
In a 2008 study of neuroplasticity published in The Journal of Neuroscience, researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany found that instructing senior citizens in a new skill, in this case juggling three balls, led to both structural as well as functional changes in the brain.
We continue to learn more about the ongoing growth and development of the brain – at any age.
So, who said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?!