What? We all know that those brain games you can buy – yes, they make you good at those games, and that’s about it. We need something more general, more basic that we can use in all circumstances.
Now UC San Francisco researchers have discovered that certain brain cells, called inhibitory neurons, that appear to be ‘sagging’ in aging rats could actually be revived, and even their numbers increased with an auditory discrimination training process.OK, in rats, for now. But it’s exciting because what’s happening in the auditory cortex could very well apply to the visual cortex, which has far more connections to various other parts of the brain. (The visual cortex constitutes 50% of our cerebral cortex, the auditory cortex 5%). Besides, the two lie close to each other and are known to work together in many situations.
The ability to discriminate between local and background sounds declines with age – as when one tries to hold a conversation in a noisy room. This is part of the general decrease in our ability to perceive and process new information, audio or visual. The reason is the degradation of inhibitory neurons that actually inhibit neighboring neurons that are processing other information so that one can focus on a particular stimulus.
So while we wait for that ultimate brain training for humans, maybe the best we can do is to play some brain games that we enjoy – games that refine our sense of discrimination, from sounds to forms and colors.
For me, it’s looking at art – not just old masters but radical new art that rattles my brain.