Although our physical abilities clearly decline as we age, cognitive decline in healthy old age is neither universal nor inevitable. In Nurturing the Older Brain, Pamela Greenwood and Raja Parasuraman show that scientific research does not support the popular notion of the inexorable and progressive effects of cognitive aging in all older adults. They report that many adults maintain a high level of cognitive function into old age and that certain experiential and lifestyle factors--including education, exercise, diet, and opportunities for new learning--contribute to the preservation of cognitive abilities.
Many popular accounts draw similar conclusions and give similar lifestyle advice but lack supporting scientific evidence. Greenwood and Parasuraman offer a comprehensive review of research on cognitive and brain aging. They show that even the aged brain remains capable of plasticity—the ability to adapt to and benefit from experience—and they summarize evidence that brain plasticity is heightened by certain types of cognitive training, by aerobic exercise, and by certain diets. They also report on the somewhat controversial use of estrogen and cognition-enhancing drugs, on environmental adaptations (including "virtual assistants") that help older adults "age in place," and on genetic factors in cognitive aging.
The past twenty years of research points to ways that older adults can lead rich and cognitively vital lives. As millions of baby boomers head toward old age, Greenwood and Parasuraman’s accessible book could not be more timely.
About the Authors
Pamela M. Greenwood is Associate Professor in the Psychology Department at George Mason University.
Raja Parasuraman is University Professor in the Psychology Department at George Mason University. He is the editor of The Attentive Brain (MIT Press, 1998).
"Nurturing the Older Brain and Mind by Pamela Greenwood and Raja Parasuraman is a wonderful new book that provides state-of-the-science level knowledge and thoughtful analysis of our understanding of aging brains and minds. The authors take a unique perspective, focusing their chapters on topics that explore the limits of cognitive and neural plasticity, and suggest that there are a variety of different ways that age-related changes in cognition and brain can be limited. Theories of aging, at different levels of analysis from molecular biology through cognitive science, are seamlessly integrated with up-to-date cross-species research on important issues and topics. The chapters nicely illustrate how the whole of our knowledge is more than the sum of its parts when animal research is integrated with human research from epidemiological studies to randomized controlled trials. Another interesting contribution is a discussion of how we can adapt living and work space, to accommodate the strengths and limitations associated with cognitive aging. A very informative and well-written book that provides a thorough analysis of what we know, and what we don’t know, with regard to aging brains and minds."—Art Kramer, Beckman Institute, University of Illinois
"The problem of age-related brain changes and associated cognitive decline is no doubt a multifactorial one, difficult to study in isolated empirical studies and to cover in comprehensive volumes like this one. However, in this case, the authors have done a superb job of integrating the vast literature related to the complex aging mind-brain relationship."—Lars Nyberg, Umea University, Sweden