In older adults, physical fitness, hormone treatment and social interaction help reduce age-related changes in the brain, suggests study.
The study investigated common characteristics of normal aging - including memory loss, reduced sleep quality, and decision-making problems.
By better understanding the aging brain, researchers hope to benefit the 500 million people worldwide who are 65 or older.
The study found that physically fit older adults have fewer signs of aging in their brains, and they outperform their peers in memory tests.
Short-term estrogen treatment leads to growth in brain regions known to be involved with attention and memory in post-menopausal women.
The findings proposed the brain's plasticity may be key to preserving cognitive function.
Sleep fails to enhance the memory of older adults, unlike their younger counterparts.
The brain's ability to process social cues is preserved as people age, despite cognitive decline and other age-related changes.
The study suggested older adults might better retain information presented in a social context.
"Even as the body begins to slow down as we age, the brain, when challenged by physical and mental activities, continues to grow and change," said Barbara Sahakian, PhD, of the University of Cambridge, who studies ways to improve cognition.
"These findings offer new information about how the brain ages, and also highlights ways to educate older adults about playing a more active role in their brain health," she added.
The findings were presented at Neuroscience 2011, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.