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The Aging Mind: Opportunities in Cognitive Research
rons and the rescue and repair of neural networks; and assessing the efficacy of intervention strategies.
2. Cognition in Context. The NIA should undertake a major research initiative to understand the effects of behavioral, social, cultural, and technological context on the cognitive functioning and life performance of aging individuals and to build the knowledge needed to intervene effectively in these contexts to assist individuals' functioning and performance.
Current research indicates that aging impairs cognition in some tasks but spares it in others. Until recently, the impairments were thought impossible to prevent or change. However, growing bodies of evidence show that the most impressive feature of the human mind across the life span may be its adaptability. Life experience can bring about lasting changes in the brain that shape the aging mind. In other words, biology and culture codetermine cognitive structure and functioning. Individuals adapt, sometimes with great success, so as to maintain cognitive functioning and task performance in the face of changes in the brain and in their social contexts. Systematically different life experiences yield systematically different cognitive contents and processes. And technology can modify the context of cognition to greatly improve functioning for older people. Much can be learned from increased research attention to the aging mind in its context: to factors such as cultural expectations and differences, changes in living situations and motives in late life, and emerging technologies. A new research initiative on cognition in context would seek to understand such factors and to identify ways to maintain and improve cognitive functioning of older people, taking these factors into account. Research under the initiative would pursue three major goals: understanding adaptive processes that affect cognitive functioning and performance during aging; understanding how differences in sociocultural context bring about systematic variation in cognitive functioning and performance; and developing the knowledge needed to design effective technologies, based on advances in the technology of sensing and information processing, to support adaptivity in older people.
3. Structure of the Aging Mind. The NIA should undertake a major research initiative to improve understanding of the structure of the aging mind, including the identification of mechanisms at the behavioral and neural levels that contribute to age-related change in cognitive functioning.
As already noted, research has established that aging affects cognitive functioning and performance of life tasks differently depending on the cogni-