Cognitive stimulation, engagement and sense of worth are all necessary ingredients for human mental fitness. And the mind and the body are also connected when it comes to physical exercise and stimulation. So when we learn that older honeybees stay younger when assuming younger honeybee roles, should we be surprised? After all, all life-forms share a common biology and need for vitality.
When older honeybees take on tasks usually handled by younger bees, aging of their brains is effectively reversed, an Arizona State University study finds. This discovery suggests that maybe humans should learn from the bees—and maybe, just maybe, we should use social intervention to help treat age-related dementia. Currently dementia is being primarily treated using drugs, but finding an effective social treatment method is at the forefront of research.
“We knew from previous research that when bees stay in the nest and take care of larvae — the bee babies — they remain mentally competent for as long as we observe them,” explained Gro Amdam, who led the research at Arizona State University. “However, after a period of nursing, bees fly out gathering food and begin aging very quickly.”
This same fast-paced aging process seems to also take place in humans. For example, when a spouse of 50+ years passes, the other spouse tends to decline at a much faster rate as there’s no longer the companionship or need to care for the other person. Social interaction dwindles and depression can set-in; thus expediting the aging process. According to Amdam, “After just two weeks, foraging bees have worn wings, hairless bodies, and more importantly, lose brain function — basically measured as the ability to learn new things.”
Social engagement, physical activity and human happiness go hand-in-hand with healthy living. Having a successful social life, rewarding job or something else to give us purpose helps to keep us young.
The researchers decided to remove the younger honeybees from the nest to see whether the older honeybees would come back to the next to care for the larvae. The findings were astounding: Some of the older bees did come back to care for the nest and larvae while others searched for food and after a week and a half, about 50% of the bees that had chosen to care for the nest had “significantly” improved their ability to learn new things,” according to Arizona State researchers. Also, after studying the bees further, the researchers discovered that the Prx6 protein in the brain—which is also found in humans and is known to protect against dementia—had changed.
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“Maybe social interventions — changing how you deal with your surroundings — is something we can do today to help our brains stay younger,” Amdam speculates. “Since the proteins being researched in people are the same proteins bees have, these proteins may be able to spontaneously respond to specific social experiences.”
While assuming a younger bee’s role keeps the honeybee more fit, there are ways to keep seniors more fit, including the following: