The York University Magazine

Fall 2015

The alumni magazine of York University

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Turner's work is all about understanding how this idea of stored knowledge and experience interacts with executive functioning as we get older – and how the brain regions supporting these interactions are impacted by aging. So how can we keep our brains fit as we get older? Turner, who is studying the brain function of both young and old people, suggests a need for balance, relying on your banked experience and also pushing yourself out of your comfort zone occasionally to get those EF networks fired up. "This is something we're looking at, both in terms of how the brain changes as we age and the behavioural impacts of those changes. My sense is that the more you're able to continue to exercise problem-solving abilities and to flexibly work with the reservoir of stored knowledge as you age, the more you will be able to make optimal choices." Don't Fall W I L L I A M G AG E, a Faculty of Health professor who is also the associate vice-president teaching and learning at York, a research scientist with the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute and founding director of YU-CARE, says what we mean by "aging" is deceptively complex. "What we talk about within YU-CARE is a whole bunch of different ways of thinking about aging itself, as opposed to just being 'old.' We're inter- ested in thinking about aging from a lifespan perspective. We're looking at the whole aging picture, from molecular levels through to behavioural and on into societal systems." Gage's area of expertise is neuromuscular control and the bio- mechanics of postural control and joint stability. "I am inter- ested in neuroscience – the role of joint mechanoreceptors such as those which are found in our knees," he says. "Those receptors tell us how we are standing and walking, and they work in parallel with our vestibular system and vision. I was looking in an experimental way at people who did not have joint receptors that were working. What happens when peo- ple's receptors aren't working? Does it look like they behave differently due to their absence? Answering such questions led me to look at not only older people, but those with knee replacements and knee arthritis, and how they recover bal- ance. Because of joint disease, this is a group that's at an even greater risk of falling than the elderly in general." Gage is particularly interested in mobility issues, and why the elderly fall more than young people. "In my lab, we're looking at how people maintain their balance and how they recover if they are knocked off balance. We examine how the limbs move to recover balance – how you take a step or reach out to grab something solid – by activating different muscles. We look at how quickly the response occurs. It slows down as you age. Walking and talking simultaneously gradually becomes more difficult as you age. For example, if you start talking on your cell phone, you're more likely to stop walk- ing if you're over 65. That is really a function of aging." Falling and balance issues for the elderly are of particular concern because one in three people over the age of 65 falls each year – often with devastating results. Gage says that, contrary to popular belief, walking is not an automatic func- tion. "It is something we do naturally, but it requires constant involvement of and monitoring by the brain. The brain is involved all along in making conscious decisions about what tasks to support and how much." In old age, that ability to multitask becomes less flexible. If the brain is asked to do one task, it may have to sacrifice something else because it is less efficient at processing. According to Gage, this could be one cause of the elderly being more prone to falling. Gage believes that aging is really a state of mind. He says there is no doubt that there are people who age better and enjoy a higher quality of life. "I think it's worth pointing out that an individual's quality of life may not be so dependent on the amount of money they have, but on the enjoyment they can derive from life. Having said that, there is a statistical relationship between access to resources, such as money, and health-related quality of life, regardless of your age. Physi- cally, these people are old, but mentally and spiritually they sure don't seem old. On the other hand, we've all met persons who aren't old but definitely present themselves that way." l 18 The York University Magazine Fall 2015 IF YOU START TALKING ON YOUR CELL PHONE, YOU'RE MORE LIKELY TO STOP WALKING IF YOU'RE OVER 65. THAT IS REALLY A FUNCTION OF AGING

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