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Australia, Jan 31, 2019 –  Everybody knows aging slows down one’s cognitive abilities. Or does it?

This long held popular belief is being turned on its head by cutting-edge brain research being conducted in Japan. A world leader in advanced medical technology and healthcare services, Japan also knows a thing or two about aged care. After all, Japan has the world’s oldest population, with more than 25% of its populace aged 65 or above.

Current research is demonstrating that the daily practice of simple brain actives such as performing simple math, or even reading out loud, can help prevent and even reverse the effects of dementia.

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A new theory – Brain training stimulates the prefrontal cortex

Tohoku University in Japan has developed a theory behind brain training as a treatment for dementia within their Smart Ageing International Research Centre, headed by neuroscientist Professor Ryuta Kawashima.

Professor Kawashima, together with his team, discovered that performing simple brain-training tasks, such as simple mathematics, are the key to preventing and treating dementia.

They have demonstrated that completing simple math questions as quickly as possible causes both sides of the brain to become highly active. Far more so than planning one’s activities for the next day, or playing a computer game, for example.

Completing these tasks as quickly as possible means the brain must process information faster and work harder. The performance of these activities triggers increased activity in the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain responsible for memory and communication, as well as emotional control and decision-making. These are the very functions that are typically compromised in people suffering with dementia.

Kawashima’s research found that completing simple tasks as quickly as possible caused significantly higher activation in the prefrontal cortex compared with solving more complex problems over time. Together with reading aloud, these activities trigger significant prefrontal cortex activity.

These brain-training methods are now being used to great effect in over 1500 aged care facilities across Japan as learning therapy. Controlled tests of dementia patients over a three-month period demonstrated increases in cognitive function in those performing the brain-training.

It has long been assumed that the cognitive function of dementia patients will just keep declining. Kawashima’s research is throwing this notion on its head, with his dementia patients maintaining or even regaining their cognitive function by training their brains.

The beneficial effects become evident within two weeks and show up first in patient’s communication skills. Participants start to be able to express themselves better. About two months later, their behavior changes as they become physically more independent. Their facial expressions change, and they can become friendly again.

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Neuroplasticity – any brain can grow

They key to these changes is neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by growing new neural connections throughout life. And this growth is triggered very effectively by brain-training.

There is an old-fashioned yet persistent notion that the brain has no plasticity after the age of 20.  This view has been debunked by modern research that shows plasticity occurs even in a mature brain.

Kawashima maintains people of any age can keep their brains healthy through brain training. He believes improvements are possible with the very elderly and even people with Alzheimer’s disease...it’s NEVER too late.

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Never too old to code

For some older members of our community, simply downloading an app or attaching a photo to an email might seem like a major achievement (yes Mum, I’ll show you how to do that again this evening.)

But not Masako Wakamiya of Japan, an 83-year old iPhone app developer. Mrs Wakamiya is an inspiration, and one of the oldest developers of iPhone apps in the world.

Incredibly, she didn’t even start using computers until she was 60 years old. Frustrated by the lack of interest in the tech industry towards engaging older people, she taught herself to code.

83-year old iPhone app developer Masako Wakamiya with Apple CEO Tim Cook

“As you age, you lose many things: your husband, your job, your hair, your eyesight. The minuses are quite numerous. But when you learn something new, whether it be programming or the piano, it is a plus, it’s motivating,” she says.

Indeed her story is not an isolated example. There are many inspiring stories of people in their 60s, 70s and 80s learning to code.

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Empire Code has developed a coding curriculum tailored for senior members of our community and those suffering from dementia

Many of us have felt the impact of dementia. If not first hand, we have known a friend, a family member or a loved one who has suffered with or been affected by its debilitating symptoms.

Inspired by Kawashima’s research and Wakamiya’s story, at Empire Code we started to as ourselves “what if…?”.  What if…we could design a curriculum, tailored to senior members of our community with dementia, that incorporated simple math and taught them a new skill? Taught them how to code?

Since we are at the leading edge of computer science education, we know exactly what Mrs Wakamiya was experiencing when she felt that the tech industry has a lack of engagement in teaching older people.

Empire Code is on a mission to change this. One of our core beliefs is that coding is for all and we have proven that coding is teachable to people of any age. Our youngest student is four and our oldest is seventy years old. Now to help even more senior members of our community keep their brains sharped.

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In loving memory

Empire Code co-founder Jasmine (aged 6) with her uncle who passed away from dementia

 

 

 

 

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Simon Ree, for Empire Code

About Empire Code

Empire Code was founded in 2016 as a coding education center. As of 2018, we have expanded within the tech industry and now comprise of Empire Code Education, Empire Code Launchpad and Empire Code Loves Back. To launch in 2019, we have Empire Code Software. For Additional Information contact us on sg@empirecode.co

https://www.empirecode.co/

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