Key Mental Abilities Can Improve during Aging: Study

portrait of happy smiling senior couple at homeAging has long been linked to a decline in mental health and abilities, but new research from Georgetown University Medical Center is shedding new light on the subject.

The findings of the new study published in Nature Human Behavior show that two key brain functions can improve in older adults. These brain functions allow new information and help people focus on what’s important in a given situation. Critical aspects of mental abilities such as memory, self-control, decision making, and others rely on these brain functions.


It has widely been assumed that executive functions and attention decline with age. However, previous studies have raised questions about these assumptions. This large-scale study indicates that critical brain functions can actually improve during aging, likely because these skills are practiced throughout life.

For the study, the research team looked at three separate components of attention and executive function in a group of 702 participants. All were aged 58 to 98 years. This age range was important since this is when cognition often changes the most during aging.

Researchers looked specifically at the brain networks involving orienting, alerting, and executive inhibition. Each of these components relies on different brain areas, neurochemicals, and genes. Because of this, the networks may also show different aging patterns.

A Decline with Age

Overall, the study found that alerting abilities declined with age. However, both orienting and executive inhibition improved.


Researchers believe that because orienting and inhibition are skills that allow people to interact with objects, these skills can improve with lifelong practice. They believe that the alerting declines because this basic state of vigilance can not improve with practice.

“The findings not only change our view of how aging affects the mind, but may also lead to clinical improvements, including for patients with aging disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease,” concluded the study’s senior investigator, Michael T. Ullman, Ph.D.

This study suggests a different approach to how to view aging. Mental health and abilities should be treated in a way to promote growth instead of believing that it will just decline with age. With more research indicating that brain function can improve, treatments can be altered in an aging population.

Author Bio

Sarah began her interest in nutritional healing at an early age. After going through health problems and becoming frustrated with the conventional ways doctors wanted to treat her illness (which were not working), she took it upon herself to find alternative treatments. This led her to revolutionize her own diet to help her get healthier and tackle her health problems. She began treating her illness by living a more balanced lifestyle through healthy food choices, exercise and other alternative medicine such as meditation. This total positive lifestyle change led her to earn a diploma in Nutritional Therapy from Health Sciences Academy in London, England. Today, Sarah enjoys helping others by teaching healthy lifestyle changes through her personal consultations and with her regular contributions to the Doctors Health Press. Also, passionate about following her dreams in life, Sarah moved to France and lived in Paris for over 5 years where she earned a certification in beadwork and embroidery from Lesage (an atelier owned by Chanel). She then went on to be a familiar face sitting front row and reporting from Paris Fashion Week. Sarah continues to practice some of the cultural ways of life she learned while in Europe. They enjoy their food, and take the time to relax and enjoy many of life’s little moments. These are life lessons she is glad to have brought back home with her.