By Gregory Kellett, a cognitive neuroscience researcher at SFSU and UCSF, and science writer for Lumos Labs.
Recent research coming out of Hamburg, Germany and published in the Journal of Neuroscience demonstrates that older brains still have the flexibility to literally grow. Researcher Janina Boyke and crew, split 50 people with an average age of 60 years into two groups. One half of the participants were trained in the fine art of juggling over the course of 3 months while the other half was not. Three MRI brain scans were taken: one before the juggling began, another after 3 months of juggling training and a yet a third after 3 months of no juggling.
The data revealed that:
The juggling group showed significant increases in brain gray matter above the non-juggling controls. These increases took place in the hippocampus (responsible for memory formation), the nucleus accumbens (involved in reward systems) and various visual centers. Three months after the end of training none of the individuals from the juggling group could still juggle and the gray matter increases had declined back to baseline.
The authors note the growth of the nucleus accumbens (involved in reward systems) to be of particular interest, suggesting that it may have been involved in " turning reward information into motivated action".