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When Seniors Tutor Kids, They Sharpen Their Own Minds As Well
Date:2/19/2010

New research suggests it might delay signs of aging in the brain

FRIDAY, Feb. 19 (HealthDay News) -- After retiring from her job as a Salvation Army pastor, Elizabeth Reed felt she still had more to offer.

So Reed, 74, signed up with Experience Corps, a program that teams elementary students in low-income schools with seniors who serve as tutors in reading and math.

Reed, who spends upwards of 20 hours a week at a school in Dorchester, Mass., says helping children discover the joy of curling up with a good book has not only given her renewed sense of purpose, but has helped her feel mentally sharper.

"I get a lot out of seeing the young people progress," Reed said. "In the beginning, they're sort of reluctant. They feel they aren't good enough readers and they don't want to do it. I like working with them, supporting them and telling them to never say 'can't.'"

Research is beginning to back up Reed's perceptions. A 2009 study by researchers from Washington University in St. Louis found children who received Experience Corps tutoring had much greater reading comprehension and ability to sound out words compared to kids who were not tutored.

And it's not only the kids who are reaping the benefits. A recent study found that among seniors, tutoring might help delay or even reverse some of the signs of aging in the brain.

After six months of tutoring, functional MRIs of the brains of eight Experience Corps volunteers showed improvements in regions of the brain involved in thinking and the ability to organize multiple tasks. Called "executive function," it's a skill that's crucial to maintaining independence in old age, said study author Michelle Carlson, an associate professor in the department of mental health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.

At the outset of the study, the women were considered at high risk of cognitive impairment because they wer
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