The aging mind: neuroplasticity in response to cognitive training

Denise C. Park, PhD and Gérard N. Bischof:

Is it possible to enhance neural and cognitive function with cognitive training techniques? Can we delay age-related decline in cognitive function with interventions and stave off Alzheimer’s disease? Does an aged brain really have the capacity to change in response to stimulation? In the present paper, we consider the neuroplasticity of the aging brain, that is, the brain’s ability to increase capacity in response to sustained experience. We argue that, although there is some neural deterioration that occurs with age, the brain has the capacity to increase neural activity and develop neural scaffolding to regulate cognitive function. We suggest that increase in neural volume in response to cognitive training or experience is a clear indicator of change, but that changes in activation in response to cognitive training may be evidence of strategy change rather than indicative of neural plasticity. We note that the effect of cognitive training is surprisingly durable over time, but that the evidence that training effects transfer to other cognitive domains is relatively limited. We review evidence which suggests that engagement in an environment that requires sustained cognitive effort may facilitate cognitive function.