How technology can improve your memory

December 01, 2009
Volume 06    |   Issue 49

If you’re curious about any subject from health concerns to global warming, do some of your own research on the Internet. Especially if you’re a senior. It can do more than provide you with additional information. It may make you smarter, says a team of scientists at the University of California Los Angeles.

These researchers followed participants for just seven days. The participants surfed the Internet for just one hour during those seven days. The researchers found that surfing the Internet stimulated parts of the brain that rule reasoning and decision-making in people who were middle-aged and older. What’s more, these participants had little Internet experience.

“We found that for older people with minimal experience, performing Internet searches for even a relatively short period of time can change brain activity patterns and enhance function,” says neuroscientist Dr. Gary Small, one of the study’s co-authors. Small also wrote a book on technology and the brain, iBrain: Surviving the technological alteration of the modern mind (William Morrow, 2009).

This study looked at the brain activity of two dozen people between 55 and 78 with normal brain function. Half had used the Internet daily while the others were not Internet-savvy.

The researchers began by taking brain scans of all participants while they surfed the Internet. Afterward, they conducted Internet searches at home for an hour a day for seven out of fourteen days. In all cases, the researchers gave the participants specific questions on various topics to research.

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Then at the end of the two weeks, they scanned their brains again while they answered different questions on different topics. The new Internet-users had new activity in the areas of the brain needed for working memory and making decisions – just like the study participants who had been using the Internet regularly before.

This indicates that not only can brain function improve as we age, a reversal doesn’t take months or years. So if you use your computer primarily for e-mail, it could be time for you to enter the world of Internet surfing. Choose a topic that interests you and do a bit of researching.

And if you know someone who doesn’t use a computer and is worried about retaining their memory, show them this alert. It’s time to use it or lose it. Computers can cost as little as $200 with free Internet access. This is a very small investment for a relatively large — and immediate — return.

Your voice of reason in Women's Health,


“Neural activation patterns in older adults following Internet training." TD Moody, H Gaddipati, GW Small, SY Bookheimer. Poster Session 382.3/GG2, Human Cognition and Behavior: Aging Studies Presented Mon, Oct 19, at Neuroscience 2009 in Chicago.

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