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How a simple Google search can help your brain [The Sun Herald :: BC-SRS-BRAIN-COMPUTERUSE:BI]

The Internet, Facebook, smartphones and other technology might be a challenging new frontier for many seniors, but there are benefits to learning and embracing the evolving technology.

A study at UCLA showed that simply using search engines such as Google triggered key centers in the brains of middle-aged and older adults, areas that control complex reasoning and decision-making, according to a press release at ucla.edu. Researchers involved said the results suggest that searching might help stimulate and possibly improve the function of the brain.

"The study results are encouraging, that emerging computerized technologies may have physiological effects and potential benefits for middle-aged and older adults," said principal investigator Dr. Gary Small, a professor at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA who holds UCLA's Parlow-Solomon Chair on Aging. "Internet searching engages complicated brain activity, which may help exercise and improve brain function."

You might be familiar with the posit that crosswords, word searches and other puzzles help keep the brain active, but as technology becomes more a part of our daily lives, the influence of computer use, including the Internet, also helps keep the mind engaged and may help preserve cognitive ability.

Study volunteers were between the ages of 55 and 76; with half of them having search experience and half of them had no search experience. Gender, age and education level were kept similar between the two groups, which performed Web searches and book-reading tasks.

While all the participants showed significant brain activity during the book-reading task, Internet searches were another matter. All the participants showed the same brain activity as in the book-reading task, but those familiar with online searches also showed activity "in the frontal, temporal and cingulate areas of the brain, which control decision-making and complex reasoning," the study revealed.

"Our most striking finding was that Internet searching appears to engage a greater extent of neural circuitry that is not activated during reading - but only in those with prior Internet experience," said Small, who is also the director of UCLA's Memory and Aging Research Center.

He said the minimal brain activation found in the less experienced Internet group may be due to participants not quite grasping the strategies needed to successfully engage in an Internet search, which is common while learning a new activity.

What does this mean? In addition to helping seniors keep up with ever-developing technology, being actively engaged with the Internet can help stimulate brain activity as we age.

Those who haven't embraced the Internet might consider classes offered at senior centers or other locations. Or there's always a computer-savvy grandchild who might provide an easy introduction.

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