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Clinical Study Shows Young Brains Lack the Wisdom of Their Elders

29.08.2011
The brains of older people are not slower but rather wiser than young brains, which allows older adults to achieve an equivalent level of performance, according research undertaken at the University Geriatrics Institute of Montreal by Dr. Oury Monchi and Dr. Ruben Martins of the Univeristy of Montreal.

“The older brain has experience and knows that nothing is gained by jumping the gun. It was already known that aging is not necessarily associated with a significant loss in cognitive function. When it comes to certain tasks, the brains of older adults can achieve very close to the same performance as those of younger ones,” explained Dr. Monchi.

“We now have neurobiological evidence showing that with age comes wisdom and that as the brain gets older, it learns to better allocate its resources. Overall, our study shows that Aesop's fable about the tortoise and the hare was on the money: being able to run fast does not always win the race—you have to know how to best use your abilities. This adage is a defining characteristic of aging.”

The original goal of the study was to explore the brain regions and pathways that are involved in the planning and execution of language pairing tasks. In particular, the researchers were interested in knowing what happened when the rules of the task changed part way through the exercise. For this test, participants were asked to pair words according to different lexical rules, including semantic category (animal, object, etc.), rhyme, or the beginning of the word (attack). The matching rules changed multiple times throughout the task without the participants knowing. For example, if the person figured out that the words fell under the same semantic category, the rule was changed so that they were required to pair the words according to rhyme instead.

“Funny enough, the young brain is more reactive to negative reinforcement than the older one. When the young participants made a mistake and had to plan and execute a new strategy to get the right answer, various parts of their brains were recruited even before the next task began. However, when the older participants learned that they had made a mistake, these regions were only recruited at the beginning of the next trial, indicating that with age, we decide to make adjustments only when absolutely necessary. It is as though the older brain is more impervious to criticism and more confident than the young brain,” stated Dr. Monchi.

Research summary
The study included a group of 24 people aged 18 to 35 and a group of 10 people aged 55 to 75 who were still active professionally. Both groups had to perform the same lexical set-shifting task. Their speed of execution and the relevance of their responses were evaluated. Their brain activity, particularly that of the fronto-striatal loops during the planning and execution of a response, was also examined using functional neuroimaging. The study was published in Cerebal Cortex and received funding from the Foundation Institut de gériatrie de Montréal and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada,. The University of Montreal is known officially as Université de Montréal and University Geriatrics Institute of Montreal as Institut universitaire de géraitrie de Montréal.
About the researchers
• Dr. Oury Monchi’s holds a Ph. D. in neuronal modeling and heads the Neurophysiological and Neuroimaging Research theme at the Centre de recherche de l’Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal (IUGM), which is affiliated with Université de Montréal.

• Dr. Ruben Martins is a psychiatry resident and a Ph D. student under the supervision of Dr. Oury Monchi at the Centre de recherche de l’Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal (IUGM), which is affiliated with Université de Montréal.

Overview of the IUGM
The IUGM consists of 452 short- and long-terms beds and an ambulatory care centre that includes one of the five chronic pain management clinics in the world. It is the leader in clinical practice, specialized care, health promotion and knowledge development in the field of aging and senior health in Quebec. The IUGM consists of some 1300 employees, physicians, researchers and volunteers, all specialized in senior care and services. Our Research Centre is recognized as the largest in the French-speaking community. Each year, the IUGM, a member of the vast network of excellence in health formed by the Université de Montréal, welcomes hundreds of students, trainees and researchers studying in the field of aging and seniors' health issues.

French:

Une recherche clinique révèle que
le cerveau des jeunes est moins sage que celui de leurs aînés
MONTRÉAL, le 25 août 2011 – Le cerveau des personnes âgées n’est pas plus lent, mais plus avisé que celui des jeunes, ce qui lui permet d’atteindre un niveau de performance équivalent selon une étude menée à l’Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal par le Dr Oury Monchi et son étudiant, Dr Ruben Martins, affiliés à l’Université de Montréal. « Le cerveau âgé a acquis de l’expérience et sait qu’il ne sert à rien de se mettre en action trop tôt. On savait déjà que le vieillissement n'est pas nécessairement associé à une perte significative des fonctions cognitives. Le cerveau des plus âgés peut, pour certaines tâches, réaliser les mêmes performances à peu près aussi bien que celui des plus jeunes, » a déclaré Dr Monchi. « Maintenant, nous avons des indications neurobiologiques qui expliquent qu’en vieillissant vient également la raison, et que le cerveau apprend à mieux répartir ses ressources. Bref, notre étude montre que Lafontaine avec son lièvre et sa tortue avait drôlement raison et que l’adage voulant qu’il ne sert de courir, mais qu’il vaut mieux partir à point, caractérise fort bien le vieillissement. »

Le but initial de l’étude était d’explorer les chemins par lesquels est traitée l’information dans le cerveau lors de la planification et la réalisation de tâches d’appariement de règles lexicales, notamment lorsque ces règles étaient changées en cours d’exercice. Lors de ce genre de tests, on demande aux participants de deviner le classement de mots par leur ressemblance, celle-ci pouvant concerner la catégorie sémantique (animal, objet, etc.), la rime ou le début du mot (attaque), tout en changeant les règles d’appariement plusieurs fois au cours de l’exercice, et ce, sans le dire aux participants. Par exemple, si la personne comprenait que les mots s’apparentaient par catégorie sémantique, la règle était changée pour que l’appariement se fasse par la rime.

« Fait cocasse, le cerveau jeune est plus réactif que le cerveau âgé au renforcement négatif. Lorsqu’un des jeunes participants se trompait et qu’il devait planifier et exécuter une nouvelle stratégie pour obtenir la bonne réponse, diverses régions de son cerveau étaient sollicitées avant même que le prochain essai démarre. Tandis que lorsqu’un participant plus âgé apprenait qu’il se trompait, ces régions n’étaient sollicitées qu’au début de l’essai suivant indiquant qu’avec l’âge, on décide de réajuster le tir seulement lorsque cela est absolument nécessaire. Comme si le cerveau âgé était plus imperméable à la critique et plus confiant que le cerveau jeune », a souligné Dr Monchi.

Résumé de la recherche
24 personnes âgées entre 18 et 35 ans et dix âgées entre 55 et 75 ans, et encore actives professionnellement, ont été soumises à différentes tâches d’appariement lexical. Leur vitesse d’exécution ainsi que la pertinence de leur réponse ont été évaluées. L’activité de leur cerveau, notamment celle de leur boucle fronto-striatale durant la planification et l’exécution d’une réponse, a elle aussi été validée par la neuroimagerie fonctionnelle. Ces résultats sont parus aujourd’hui dans la revue anglaise Cerebral Cortex, et ont reçu le soutien financier de la Fondation de l’IUGM ainsi que du Conseil de recherches en sciences naturelles et en génie du Canada.
À propos des auteurs
• Dr Oury Monchi, Ph. D. en modélisation neuronale, est responsable de l’axe Neuroscience et vieillissement au Centre de recherche de l’Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal (IUGM) affilié à l'Université de Montréal.

• Dr Ruben Martins, résident en psychiatrie, est aussi étudiant au laboratoire du Dr Monchi au Centre de recherche de l’Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal (IUGM) affilié à l'Université de Montréal.

L’IUGM en bref
L'IUGM dispose de 452 lits de courte et de longue durée et d'un centre ambulatoire, comprenant notamment l'une des cinq cliniques de gestion de la douleur chronique existantes à travers le monde. Il est le chef de file au Québec dans les pratiques cliniques, les soins spécialisés, la promotion de la santé et le développement des connaissances sur le vieillissement et la santé des personnes âgées. L'IUGM, c'est quelque 1 300 employés, médecins, chercheurs et bénévoles, tous spécialisés dans les soins et les services aux personnes âgées. Notre Centre de recherche est reconnu comme le plus grand de la francophonie. Membre du grand réseau d'excellence en santé de l'Université de Montréal, l'IUGM accueille chaque année des centaines d'étudiants, stagiaires et chercheurs du domaine du vieillissement et de la santé des personnes âgées.

William Raillant-Clark | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.umontreal.ca

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