ELDER MUSIC: Sweet Soul Music

New Information About Aging Brains

category_bug_journal2.gif It hasn't trickled down to employers yet or late-night comedians or much of mainstream media but with each passing year, evidence that old brains are dumber brains is being debunked. Remember that old standby from the 1960s we all believe about losing millions of brain cells a day after age 30? Maybe not, according to a report in the most recent issue of Newsweek. Past data that has indicated age-related brain shrinkage

“...may be skewed by the inclusion of people who have very early dementia – so early that they have no symptoms, explains neuroscientist John Morrison of Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, but still have neuronal loss and thus volume loss in their prefontal cortex.

“If only truly healthy people were studied, there might be no such volume loss, he says.”

Other good news, according to the Newsweek report, also relates to neurons. A newly-published study of rhesus monkeys

“...shows how well the aging brain holds up. The animals’ prefrontal cortex indeed loses 'dendritic spines,' tiny protrusions that, acting as the brain’s wide receivers, catch the neurotransmitters that carry signals from other neurons. But there are two kinds of spines in monkeys as well as people.

“Small, thin ones are responsible for learning and remembering new things (where did I park my car?), and short, stubby ones are responsible for recalling things we’ve known for years. The brain loses some 45 percent of the first kind—and zero of the second kind...”

This may account for elders' penchant for reminiscence which plays an important part in life review that is important in our later years, but it is also useful to understanding how much experience we have to call upon in solving problems, an area where older people often out-perform the young. And those short, stubby dendritic spines may explain why we shouldn't worry about forgetting someone's name.

For most of us, there is nothing more frightening than the prospect of losing our memories and as interesting as advances in brain science are, they don't help much with advising us about avoiding dementia. But here is what is known for certain about brain health:

What study and after study after study shows is that the most effective way to maintain mental function as you age is to get off your duff. According to the Newsweek report:

“What does support mental acuity as we age is the same thing that’s good for your heart, lungs, immune system, and muscles: aerobic exercise such as brisk walking. A seminal study by scientists at the University of Illinois found that three vigorous, 40-minute walks a week over six months improves memory and reasoning.

“It also spurs the birth of new brain neurons, scientists led by the University of Illinois’s Art Kramer reported in 2006, and increases the volume of white matter, which connects neurons, in areas responsible for such executive functions as planning.”

You know what you need to do today.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Walt Grant: Uncle Bob


yup, go bicycling!

Or walk, which I do 5-6 times a week. A mile & a half with some great neighbors. It's also a great destressor! I wish I could walk to shops as you are able, Ronni. I'm just a tad too far. Are my brain cells doing better? I don't know, but I know my joints are not creaky, & I can move around alot more easily. Dee

Rats !!! Now I am going to feel guilty when I fail to walk. I know I should. I used to walk every morning, but I hate walking alone and there is no one to go with me. I just procrastinate and only make it as far as the mailbox and back.

I don't even have the excuse that it's too hot as it's cool enough before 9 am. Guess I will have to get off my duff, get up early and get moving because I am sure losing a lot of those small thin spines..

I just ordered a sit down exercise cycle for my MIL. about 100.00 from brylanehome.com
Looks good for those who have a hard time walking, watch TV and get some work out. We'll see if she likes it.

Managed a longer walk then usual, then came home and collapsed in front of Wimbledon on TV and cuddled the dog. Brilliant to know we can make a difference in little ways, to the way our brains age.

I walk every day on our lovely dead end road with our dogs and also use the local high school track to power walk. My folks, who both died in their mid 90's were daily walkers and devout fans of doing the Sunday New York Time crossword....kept the brain cells firing. I think much of this is a crap shoot, taking into consideration many factors, but I'm in the game and leave the statistics to others!

Oh for a fresh crop of those short, stubby, dendritic spines! I walk three miles most days, all briskly and some of it uphill, but I'm getting worse at the names thing with every passing day.

good to know.

I agree that physical exercise is good, but mental exercise is at least as important. I am lucky that I have found places to study and stretch my brain with other elders both at my home in Albuquerque, NM and here in Jerusalem, Israel.

Last evening, waiting at the bus stop after a lecture with another 70-80is woman, she said that her granddaughter, just graduated from high school, had asked her why she (the grandmother) continued to take classes. The granddaughter couldn't understand anyone going to classes after they were out of school and told her grandmother she was just weird. My friend asked the granddaughter about her other grandmother. The granddaughter said, "She's weird, too."

Incidentally, living in Jerusalem is a great way to keep up physical exercise, as well. I probably walk two to four kilometers most days just going on errands or to concerts or lectures. Yes, I was taking a bus last night, but I had already done probably four kilometers during the day.


No one is dismissing the importance of mental exercise around here. It has been discussed regularly during the many years this blog has existed and it will continue to be done.

But as study after study shows, mental exercise without physical work is not much help in keeping one's wits in old age so it's good to be reminded. We try to cover all the important elder topics here.

As to walking four kilometers a day in Jerusalem, I hope you are not implying that distance and much more can't and isn't being covered on foot in many cities of the world every day.

That is great to know as I sit for hours at the computer and the piano - my fingers look great but my other end needs exercise...yea but not in this life!!! What a fool am I .... interesting book to read - 36 hour day -is about dementia and alsheimers...oye vay

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