Seniors, take heart. You are never too old to learn, thanks to insights into 'brain plasticity'.
In the past decade or so, scientists have made breakthroughs indicating that the brain is remarkably plastic, even in old age.
'Brain plasticity, or neuroplasticity, is the concept that the brain, even in adult life, has the capacity to change in response to learning and the environment,' said Dr Roby Marcou, a senior consultant in paediatrics neurology at National University Hospital.
For example, regardless of age, each time we acquire new knowledge or learn a new skill, our brains change in new and functional ways.
One can almost imagine the brain busily creating new connections and re-routing existing ones.
'Adults who have had brain trauma have been shown to grow new neurons,' said Dr Marcou.
What is known is that seniors can build up their cognitive reserve by active stimulation of the brain - through taking up a course or through mentally rigorous leisure activities such as doing Sudoku or playing mahjong.
This can protect the brain against age-related diseases such as dementia.
In a study reported in the February issue of Psychology And Sociology, people between 50 and 65 years of age were questioned about their daily activities within the past year and in middle age.
It found that during later years, activities such as reading, playing games and participating in computer activities and craft work led to a 30 to 50per cent decrease in the risk of developing memory loss, compared to people who did not do these activities.
Studies also indicate that diet can play a part in helping to keep the brain healthy and alert.
Dr Marcou says for optimal brain development, it is crucial that babies have a diet rich in key nutrients such as iron, DHA, zinc and iodine before their first birthday.
As for older people, in a study reported in New Scientist in 2006, a team of researchers from the National University of Singapore found that eating curry seems to boost brain power in elderly people.
The key ingredient is curcumin, or turmeric, the yellow herb that goes into a curry's spice mix.
Now that is food for thought.
This article was first published in The Straits Times.