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From the Green Valley News, Sunday 16 November 2008, page C2

Genealogy Today, by Betty Lou Malesky, CG

Genealogy is Good for Your Brain

Last month researchers at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) announced the results of a study that suggests online searching could be beneficial for your brain. Does this mean the more you Google the healthier your brain is? If so, spending time at the computer doing genealogy is time well spent.

Dr. Gary Small recruited two groups of people ranging in age from 55 to 75 for the study, one group with minimal computer experience and the other, experienced Web users. Sex and educational background were similar in both groups.

Volunteers were given a magnetic resonance imaging test, or MRI that monitored their brain activity while they viewed the Internet through special goggles. Using buttons and keyboards, they conducted routine online searches typical of those done daily, such as finding the benefits of eating chocolate or drinking coffee. Isnít that similar to searching for an ancestor? During the test, they also read digitized pages comparable to those in a book.

The two groups displayed little difference when reading the simulated book pages. In contrast, there were marked differences in brain activity when searching the Internet. They concluded that while learning to use a computer may be more difficult for older people, the challenge is worth the effort to help keep the mind active and the brain healthy. An active brain continually produces new connections between nerve cells that allow cells to communicate with each other and facilitate the brainís storage and retrieval of information.

The results of Dr. Smallís study appear in the current issue of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. In the articles he states, "Members of the technologically advanced group had more than twice the neural activation than their less experienced counterparts while searching online. Activity occurred in the region of the brain that controls decision-making and complex reasoning."

Another survey in 2006 by the Pew Internet and American Life Project indicated only about 32 percent of people 65 and over used the Internet. According to Tobey Gordon Dichter of Generations on Line, a Philadelphia non-profit organization that encourages seniors to use the Web, disinterest and intimidation is the most frequent deterrent. When we surveyed our local genealogical society members, we discovered that about 98 percent use the computer for family research, much higher than indicated by the Pew survey.

The Mayo Clinic recommends you keep your mind sharp and agile by continually challenging yourself, by learning new skills, doing puzzles, interacting with others, starting a new hobby, volunteering, or taking classes that interest you. All of these activities are utilized in the pursuit of family research. So go for it!

Genealogy resources on the Web increase almost daily. Learning how to do Internet research while you solve the puzzle of your ancestry will not only challenge you, it will keep your brain young and active. At the same time, it will give you a new way to connect with grandchildren who seem to be born computer literate these days.

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