How Older People Learn

Learning at an advanced age makes the brain fit. Older people even learn more than younger ones. Still, age-related brain changes cannot be undone.

As a person ages, perception declines, accompanied by augmented brain activity. Learning and training may ameliorate age-related degradation of perception, but age-related brain changes cannot be undone. Rather, brain activity is enhanced even further, but for other reasons and with different outcomes. Researchers at Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) discovered these facts in a recent study, the results of which have now been published in Scientific Reports.

Enhanced brain activity at old age

The researchers asked test participants in different age cohorts to feel two needlepoints that were located closely to each other with the tips of their fingers. Older participants perceived two points as a single event even when they were located quite far apart, whereas younger people were still able to distinguish them as two distinct points, which is evidence for degraded tactile perception at higher age. This impaired perception experienced by older people goes hand in hand with a spatial enhancement of brain activity, which researchers generally interpret as a compensatory mechanism.

Learning and training improve perception

“Age-related degraded perception is not irreversible; rather, it can be improved through training and learning,” explains Dr Hubert Dinse from the RUB Neural Plasticity Lab. The question researchers then asked was: if age-related impaired perception can be restored, will the age-related expansion of brain activity be reduced as well? In other words: can training and learning lead to a “rejuvenation” of the brain?

Learning too enhances brain activity

Studies with young adults have shown that learning processes are typically associated with an enhanced and broadened brain activity. If age-related impaired perception can be restored through learning, learning should have a different effect on the brain in older people than in young adults: the age-related enhanced brain activity should be reduced. Yet, as the neuroscientists from Bochum observed, the opposite is the case: learning processes in old people result in a further enhancement of brain activity too, which is associated with improved perception.

Learning to understand ageing and learning processes with the computer

“We asked ourselves: how can the different effects of enhanced brain activity on perception in older people be explained?” recounts Dr Burkhard Pleger from the RUB Neurology Clinic in Bergmannsheil Hospital. For the purpose of the study, the researchers used computer simulations to model both brain activity and associated perception. To this end, they simulated a number of alternatives of how those results might have been generated. These simulations showed that the observed pattern of age-related changes at the level of brain activity and perception could only be explained by the weakening of a mechanism that limits spread of activation, thus keeping activity focussed. In contrast, the observed learning effects could only be explained by reduced inhibition, which leads to higher brain activity. This mechanism is operating in both young and older people. Thus, the older brain learns according to the same principles as the younger brain. Considering the magnitude of learning-induced improved perceptual ability in younger and older participants, the study shows that older people improve even more than younger people. This result too can be explained by the computer simulations through reduced suppressive neural mechanisms in the elderly participants.

Training pays off at every age – but it does not rejuvenate the brain

“The computer simulations explain how changed brain activity can have opposite effects on the level of perception. In addition, they explain the observation that the ‘treatment’ of ageing processes does not reverse age-related brain changes, but rather remodels them,” says Hubert Dinse. “They demonstrate that training and learning pay off at every age, in order to remain fit.”

Source: Ruhr University Bochum

In Pictures: Sweets of Restaurants in Sapporo, Japan

Study Links Tree Nut Consumption to Prostate Cancer Mortality

In a large prospective study published online in the British Journal of Cancer*, researchers looked at the association between nut consumption and prostate cancer risk and mortality among 47,299 men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. While nut consumption was not associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer, men who had prostate cancer and consumed tree nuts (almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts) five or more times per week after diagnosis, had a significant 34 percent lower risk of overall mortality than those who consumed nuts less than once per month (HR=0.66, 95% CI: 0.52-0.83, P for trend=0.0005).

“This is important,” states lead researcher, Ying Bao from the Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, “since more men live with prostate cancer than die from it.” Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed and second most lethal cancer for men in the U.S.

According to Dr. Bao, of the 4,346 men diagnosed with non-metastatic (cancer that has not spread from the place where it started to other places in the body) prostate cancer during the 26 years of follow-up, only about 10 percent died from prostate cancer. Roughly one third of the cancer patients died from cardiovascular disease and the rest from other causes.

Increasing evidence suggests that insulin resistance, a condition in which the cells of the body become resistant to the hormone insulin, is involved in prostate cancer risk and progression. Tree nuts have been associated with improved insulin sensitivity and reduced risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and total mortality**. Nuts contain important nutrients such as unsaturated fats, high quality protein, vitamins (i.e., vitamin E, folate and niacin) minerals (i.e., magnesium, calcium and potassium) and phytochemicals–all of which may offer cardioprotective, anticarcinogenic, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

“These findings add to the growing body of evidence showing that nuts can and should be part of a healthy diet,” states Maureen Ternus, M.S., R.D., Executive Director of the International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research & Education Foundation (INC NREF). “During the summer months especially, tree nuts are a great, portable snack to take to the beach, on a hike, or camping,” adds Ternus. “Just 1.5 ounces of nuts per day (about 1/3 cup) can have a positive impact on health.”

Source: EurekAlert!

Dome-shaped Chocolate Ganache Cake


Chocolate Sponge Cake

5 whole eggs
1/2 cup sugar
4 Tbs cake flour
4 Tbs cocoa powder
5 1/2 Tbs melted butter

Chocolate Mousse

2 cups melted chocolate
1 egg yolk
2 cups whipping cream

Chocolate Ganache

1 cup fresh cream
3 Tbs melted chocolate


Chocolate Sponge Cake

  1. Beat eggs, sugar together in a bowl until fluffy.
  2. Sift flour and cocoa powder together. Fold into egg mixture.
  3. Melt butter and fold into batter.
  4. Line a 9″ cake pan with parchment paper, or butter and flour.
  5. Pour batter into pan and bake at 350°F for 45 mins.

Chocolate Mousse

  1. Melt chocolate in a double boiler.
  2. Slightly beat the egg and fold into melted chocolate.
  3. Semi-whip the cream.
  4. Fold into chocolate and egg mixture.

Chocolate Ganache

  1. Melt chocolate in a double boiler.
  2. Add whipped cream, at room temperature.


  1. Line an 8 cup stainless steel bowl with plastic wrap leaving extra hanging over the edges.
  2. Put a 1/2 cup of chocolate mousse into the bottom of bowl layering flat.
  3. Cut the sponge cake into 3 equal Layers, placing first layer on top of chocolate mousse.
  4. Place 1-1/2 cups mousse on top of the sponge cake. Replace second layer of sponge cake.
  5. Spread remainder of mousse on top of sponge cake. Replace top layer.
  6. Allow to set overnight.
  7. Remove cake from bowl by using plastic wrap, inverting onto wire rack.
  8. Prepare ganache and pour over cake, covering it completely.

Garnish as desired.

Makes 1 cake.

Source: ciao!

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