Two back-to-back sessions at APA's Annual Convention on Friday, Aug. 24, will provide new insights into how the human brain ages and how to keep aging minds sharp.
The sessions, presented by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) in conjunction with APA's Presidential Task Force on Emerging Opportunities in Science, will bring together a diverse set of speakers who will present not only basic cognitive research, but also research on proposed interventions.
"We don't know for sure how to be mentally fit yet, but we're starting to learn," says session co-chair Denise C. Park, PhD, a psychology professor and the director of CACHET (Center for Aging and Cognition: Health, Education and Training) at the University of Michigan. "The research that will be presented is on the cutting edge of neuroscience."
The first session, "Healthy Minds Symposium," 9-10:50 a.m., will feature several distinguished experts on aging:
Park will review empirical research on what psychologists and neuroscientists know happens to the brain as a person ages.
Patricia A. Reuter-Lorenz, PhD, of the University of Michigan will present data that indicates adults' brains reorganize as they age. Her research has found that older adults use regions in both brain hemispheres to complete some memory tasks, while young people only use regions in one hemisphere to complete the same tasks.
James A. Joseph, PhD, of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University will discuss his investigation of how a person's diet could support a healthy aging mind. He has found that a diet supplemented with antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables forestalls cognitive decline in rats.
Arthur Kramer, PhD, of the University of Illinois will present new research on how exercise can affect cognitive performance in the elderly. In previous work, Kramer found that aerobic exercise has a positive impact on executive functioning in older people.
Laura L. Carstensen, PhD, a Stanford University psychology professor, and Richard Suzman, PhD, NIA associate director, will be the symposium's discussants. Carstensen and Suzman will put the presented research into a broader social context.
The second session, "Healthy Minds Invited Address," 11-11:50 a.m., will feature Fred H. Gage, PhD, discussing "Birth of new neurons in the adult brain: regulation and function." In his research at the Salk Institute, Gage is investigating whether the aging brain can continue to grow and change.
Until a few years ago, researchers believed that all of the brain's neurons were formed prenatally. Now Gage and others have found that parts of the brain continue neurogenesis throughout adulthood. Gage is working to identify exactly what happens in which parts of the brain to cause new neurons to form. His research not only has implications for neuroscience, but also for the study of cognitive functioning and aging.
"It's revolutionary work," says symposium co-chair Molly Wagster, PhD, program director for Neuropsychology of Aging at NIA. "The research to be presented at this session has changed how we think about the plasticity of the aging brain. It is not to be missed."