What happens to the brain as we age? There is a misconception that the brain begins to fall apart as we get older but the truth is, even though the fastest growing segment of the population is 65 and older, we know almost nothing about how the brain changes as a function of aging.
Prof. Allison Sekuler, Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience at McMaster University has found that as we age, the brain has a capacity to reorganize itself when it comes up against a challenge.
“The human brain, as we age, can actually reorganize itself,” explains Sekuler. “So if it comes up against a problem where it doesn’t have the resources available, it can recruit areas that are normally used in young people for other sorts of things. So if we can’t see as well, we are able to make use of parts of the brain that would normally be used for memory and attention, to help us see and to help us hear.
“The more we understand about those basic elements of how the brain can reorganize itself, the more we can make plans to help brains reorganize themselves, so older people can lead happier lives.”
Sekuler’s research group in the Vision & Cognitive Neuroscience Lab studies how the brain changes with age and experience, and is using a combination of behavioural and neuroimaging methods to understand the limits of this compensatory reorganization. In the future, this knowledge could be used to create training programs to harness the brain’s capacity for change to maximize learning and quality of life in older individuals.
UPDATE (July 22, 2019): Professor Sekuler is now Vice-President, Research, and the Sandra A. Rotman Chair at Baycrest Health Sciences. Baycrest specializes in research in brain health and aging, two areas where Sekuler contributes deep expertise.