Researchers have determined that seniors who display healthier nerve connections than their peers tend to be smarter and mentally sharper later on in life. The discovery was made by experts at the Age UK charity.
Maintaining the quality of synapses is therefore shaping up to be one of the most important objectives for those who want to retain their mental and cognitive capabilities as they age. Healthy neurons also reduce the risk of developing mild cognitive impairment or dementia.
Robust brain wiring, as the researchers call it, has also been proven able to reduce the risk of people developing Alzheimer's disease, a neurodegenerative form of dementia for which there is currently no cure, Science Blog
The primary focus of the new research was on the nerve fibers that connect different portions of the brain, especially those located relatively far away from each other. Any disruptions in these critical neural pathways can lead to negative effects accumulating in the brain, slowing it down considerably.
People whose brains still exhibit strong wiring, even during old age, are smarter than their peers, and able to process information, both old and new, faster. The new investigation was carried out as part of the Disconnected Mind Project.
One of the most interesting implications of the new study is that intelligence is not located in a single part of the brain. Just like spirituality, it stems from a large number of brain areas, each of which contributes differently.
“This research is very exciting as it could have a real impact on tackling mental decline in later life, including dementia,” explains the head of research at Age UK, professor James Goodwin.
“With new understanding on how the brain functions we can work out why mental faculties decline with age in some people and not others and look at what can be done to improve our minds’ chances of aging better,” he says.
“Our results suggest a first plausible way how brain structure differences lead to higher intelligence. The results are exciting for our understanding of human intelligence differences at all ages,” adds Dr. Lars Penke, the author of the new study.
Most of the neural wiring is done through white matter, an ensemble of neurons responsible for transmitting signals around various areas of the brain.