OBSSR Director's December Seminar: The Effectiveness of Mentally Challenging Activities on the Brain: An Individual Differences Perspective

Date 12/20/16 2:00pm to 3:00pm
Presenter(s) Ian McDonough
Location Webinar
Event URL https://nih.webex.com/mw3000/mywebex/default.do?nomenu=true&siteurl=nih&service=6&rnd=0.20374476485426607&main_url=https%3A%2F%2Fnih.webex.com%2Fec3000%2Feventcenter%2Fevent%2FeventAction.do%3FtheAction%3Ddetail%26%26%26EMK%3D4832534b00000002f654affa64113

Correlational and limited experimental evidence suggests that an engaged lifestyle is associated with the maintenance of cognitive vitality in old age. However, the mechanisms underlying these engagement effects are poorly understood. We tested how an intervention aimed to increase challenging leisure activities affected cognition and brain function. Furthermore, while it is well-known that not all older adults benefit equally from a given intervention, there is a dearth of research on who benefits most from interventions. To fill this knowledge gap, we also explored how individual differences in time spent in the program, age, and cognitive change. Thirty-nine participants engaged in 15 hours of activities per week over 14 weeks in either high-challenge activities (digital photography and quilting) or low-challenge activities (socializing or performing low-challenge cognitive tasks). Brain function was assessed using fMRI during a semantic classification task with two levels of demand pre and post intervention. The High-Challenge group, but not the Low-Challenge group, showed increased modulation of brain activity in regions associated with attention and semantic processing that stemmed from decreases in brain activity during the easy condition (neural efficiency). These effects were greater for those who spent more time committed to the program, who were older, and who gained most in cognition. Sustained engagement in cognitively demanding activities facilitated cognition by increasing neural efficiency. Mentally-challenging activities may be neuroprotective and an important element to maintaining a healthy brain into late adulthood. Learning objectives include understanding 1) how mentally challenging activities can improve cognition in old age, 2) how mentally challenging activities impact brain activity, and 3) how individual differences can moderate the effectiveness of interventions.

Dr. Ian McDonough currently is an Assistant Professor in the Psychology Department at the University of Alabama and is an Associate of the Alabama Research Institute on Aging. Dr. McDonough received his B.S. from UCLA in 2006, his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 2011, and did his postdoc at the Center for Vital Longevity at the University of Texas at Dallas until 2015. He recently received the Matilda White Riley Early Stage Investigator Honors from the National Institute of Health and was accepted into the highly competitive Butler-Williams Scholars Program at the National Institute on Aging. Dr. McDonough’s current research focuses on the neural correlates of memory retrieval and how they differ with old age. More recently, he has also begun to investigate how the neural correlates differ in middle-aged and older adults at risk for Alzheimer’s disease, with a focus on racial/ethnic health disparities.



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