Dr. Jeremy Grabbe, SUNY Plattsburgh – Brain Function and Age

Jul 31, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Jeremy Grabbe of the State University of New York at Plattsburgh reveals that there are some types of brain function that improve with age. 

Jeremy Grabbe is an assistant professor of psychology at the State University of New York Plattsburgh. His research focuses on vision and attention as well as improving cognition among the aging population. He is the author of many scientific papers and recently became the father of triplets. He earned his Ph.D. in Applied Cognitive Aging Psychology at the University of Akron.

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Dr. Jeremy Grabbe – Brain Function and Age

We all know the drill. As you age, your cognitive functions decrease. Studies have shown this, time after time. Right? Well, new research has shown that some cognitive functions remain stable across our life spans and some actually improve. For example, a study I conducted at SUNY Plattsburgh at Queensbury and published in the journal Experimental Aging Research found that our range of vision actually increases in an asymmetrical or non-uniform way, as we age. This range of vision, called the Useful Field of View, allows us to extract meaningful visual information such as words.

We found that older adults are able to extract more information for words on the right side of an area of the retina known as the parafovea. These results contrast with previous studies showing a shrinking of the Useful Field of View with age. Our study showed that this increase towards the right parafovea was for words only and not other stimuli. We theorize that this change occurs because of our experiences reading from left to right as native English speakers.

This process of expansion and change parallels other areas of research on mental exercise. Mental exercise adopts a “use it or lose it” hypothesis based on the principle of neuroplasticity which is the brain’s ability to adapt to adverse changes to preserve or improve cognitive function. Recently, I have discovered that Sudoku significantly shares the cognitive processes used in working memory. Working memory is a cognitive system used in almost all forms of cognition. In fact as you are listening to this broadcast working memory is involved in monitoring what you are hearing and learning at this moment. Working memory performance is greatly compromised by disorders such as dementia. Results such as this expansion of the Useful Field of View support initiatives in interventions to maintain cognitive function as you age.

Our hope is that these results can be used to improve designs for products for older adults as well as encourage future research to examine what other cognitive functions can improve with age.

Production support for the Academic Minute comes from Newman’s Own, giving all profits to charity and pursuing the common good for over 30 years, and from Mount Holyoke College.