Middle-aged and elderly adults can sharpen up their brains simply by surfing the internet, according to new research in the US.
Web searches carried out by experienced internet users were found to double activity in the complex thinking part of the brain – producing similar effects to those achieved by crossword puzzles and Sudoku. Simply reading a book did not produce the same levels of brain activity.
Mentally challenging games are already known to help older people think faster and more clearly, and scientists believe that using computers may have a similar effect.
A group of 24 volunteers aged between 55 and 76 underwent a range of tests at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). Half of them had experience in using the internet, while the other half did not.
Scans, which tracked activity by measuring blood flow through different parts of the brain while the tests were carried out, revealed a major difference between the two groups.
All participants showed an increase in activity in regions of the brain controlling language, reading, memory and visual ability. But only the volunteers with previous experience of the internet also registered a significant boost in the areas of the brain that deal with decision-making and complex reasoning.
"I think everyone including the elderly should be encouraged to use the internet. If you are housebound or live alone it can be a lifeline to the outside world and a source of information about your own health and other matters." - Carole Cadman, Oldbury