Healthy pensioners have the power to create just as many new brain cells as young people in their 20s, research has revealed.
Scientists said the findings showed mental decline by your 70s is not the “inevitable process many of us think it is”.
Researchers made the discovery after counting the number of new cells growing in the hippocampus, the part of the brain which processes memories and emotions.
They found around 700 brain cells were created each day - even in the oldest people studied - and that there was no size difference in the hippocampus in young and old brains. However, the American scientists warned we still need to keep our brains and bodies active to ensure new cells were not wasted.
They examined the brains of 28 women and men aged between 14 and 79 who had died suddenly. None had medical conditions or were on psychiatric drugs.
Lead author Maura Boldrini said: “We found older people have a similar ability to make thousands of hippocampal new neurons from progenitor cells as younger people do. We also found equivalent volumes of the hippocampus across ages.”
But in some respects the older brains were in worse condition, such as blood vessels not regrowing to the same extent as younger people, she said.
Dr Duncan Wood, a neuroscientist at the Open University, said the findings “should give hope to people to look after their brain health as they age”, adding: “This provides further evidence mental decline is not the inevitable process many think it is. There is hope in our twilight years.”