August 12, 2008
Arlington Connection
David Schultz

THE HUMAN mind: use it or lose it.

That was the message of Michael Merzenich Phd. as he spoke to a group of Arlington County seniors at the Central Library this weekend.

Merzenich is a scholar and researcher at the Keck Center for Integrative Neuroscience at the University of California San Francisco. He has been traveling around the country giving a lecture entitled “You CAN Teach an Old Brain New Tricks” to promote his message that the brain is much more malleable than many people realize.

“You can think of your head as a source of seething change,” he told the audience of more than 150 seniors. “The brain is continuously plastic. It has the chance to correct itself through practice.”

Merzenich said that, just like a machine that wears with age, the brain tends to slow down as it gets older. But, according to Merzenich, this slowing of the brain doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.

“Old brains slow down but you can actually reaccelerate them in many ways,” he said.

Merzenich recommended that people keep their brain active on a daily basis through learning new skills and engaging in social situations.

“Human interaction and human contact are very important for brain health,” he said. “More and more this will become a presence in any well-organized life. This is something you should all think about.”

The lecture was organized by Arlington County’s Office of Senior Adult Programs. Cheryl Johnson, a manager in the office, said that her manager was watching PBS and saw a documentary on Merzenich’s research and invited him to speak at the Central Library.

“You’ve been hearing more and more about brain fitness,” Johnson said. “Everyone’s interested in aging successfully,” Senior Center Supervisor Anne Peret said.

Arlington County is holding several brain fitness workshops at Langston-Brown and Walter Reed Senior Centers. For a fee of $50, computer programs will be made available for those who want to exercise their minds.