After bashing AARP yesterday for publishing a loathsome piece on why lying about our ages is a good idea, it is only fair to note their report on aging brains which counters conventional wisdom that people lose mental power as they get older.
“…studies have shown that older adults are better at solving problems, more flexible in their strategies, and better able to keep their cool during a crisis than younger people are. They also bounce back from a bad mood more quickly.”
According to this story, which is part of a special report on normal and abnormal brain aging, we do get smarter - and wiser too.
“[People] frequently overlook the mental powers they gained...
“’In the old days, you called it wisdom,’ says Duke University neurobiologist Lawrence Katz, Ph.D. ‘But what is wisdom, really? It is a dense and rich network of associations developed through a lifetime of experiences.’
"You can’t buy that richness, and you can’t get it from a pill. You have to earn it – by putting your gray matter to the test time and time again. ‘There’s a reason we don’t have 20-year-olds running Fortune 500 companies,’ Katz says.”
Although aging brains normally lose some speed in learning new skills after age 50, “once you have learned something new, it stays with you as well as it does with younger people.”
So why do older people have a bad reputation for what their brains can do? It’s what I’ve been saying at Time Goes By all along:
“Blame it on our youth-obsessed culture. Many factors can impair thinking and memory, but the most insidious is ageism. Researchers are discovering that the more you buy into the notion that getting older means losing your marbles, the more likely you are to succumb to it.
“For example, Yale University psychologist Becca Levy, Ph.D., has found that older people shown negative words about aging, such as senile, before taking memory tests did significantly worse on the tests than those shown positive words about aging, such as wisdom.
“In fact, people who saw positive words improved their scores. Levy has also shown that in cultures with a more positive view of aging than ours – China, for example – older people perform better on memory tests.”
The more you believe memory loss and thinking ability will decline as you get older, the more likely they will. A healthy diet and exercise play into maintaining brain power in old age too.
Researchers also report that risk for developing dementia is reduced if you continue “challenging your intellect with puzzles and lessons.” I would add blogging to that list. You can read about its benefits here.