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Language Centers in Brain Shift With Age

Capacity evens out between hemispheres as people get older, study found

WEDNESDAY, April 28, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- As people age, the language capacity in their brain becomes more evenly distributed between both the right and left hemispheres, says a University of Cincinnati Medical Center study.

This finding may eventually help in the development of therapies for adults who've suffered brain injury, illness or other damage.

The hemisphere of the brain where a person's language capacity is located is likely predetermined, along with whether they're right- or left-handed. In most people, their language capacity is converse to their "handedness" -- a left-handed person's language capacity would be in the right hemisphere of the brain.

In this study, researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study the brain activity of 155 healthy right-handed people while they did language tasks. There were 103 people aged five to 17 and 52 people aged 18 to 67.

From childhood to about age 25, language capacity was stronger in the left hemisphere of right-handed people. After about age 25, language capacity in the brain evened out somewhat. Older adults used more of both hemispheres when doing language tasks.

"The increase in hemispheric dominance as children age is probably related to improving linguistic skills, maturation of the central nervous system, and the 'pruning' of synaptic connections; the decrease among older subjects perhaps reflects compensation for age-related loss of functional capacity," study author Dr. Jerzy P. Szaflarski said in a prepared statement.

The study was presented April 27 at the American Academy of Neurology annual meeting in San Francisco.

More information

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association has more about how children learn to hear and talk.

SOURCE: American Academy of Neurology, news release, April 27, 2004
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