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I Flunked Elder Online Dating – Part 1

Wise and Wily Old People

One of the good things the ageing of the huge baby boomer generation has spawned is an upsurge in research about old people, particularly brain and cognition research, and I follow it closely. Well, as much as possible.

Most study results are published in expensive professional journals so I must rely on second-hand reports. Today's comes from Benedict Carey, a science reporter at The New York Times whom I have read for a long time and trust. He specializes in brain and behavior topics.

Although many cognitive skills peak early in life, a new paper, reports Carey, suggests that old brains offer different ones.

”Elements of social judgment and short-term memory, important pieces of the cognitive puzzle, may peak later in life than previously thought.”

Here's some context you need to know:

”The study evaluated historic scores from the popular Wechsler intelligence test, and compared them with more recent results from tens of thousands of people who took short cognitive tests on the authors’ websites, and”

[PERSONAL NOTE: Checking the website, I now recall taking these tests at testmybrain, so I'm one of the participants although I have no memory of my results; it was several years ago.]

A drawback of this study, says one researcher, is that the same people were not followed over many years. But the nature of these studies in general, I have found, is that they move our understanding forward in small, tentative increments. We are gradually learning more about older cognition.

”They took a large battery of tests, measuring skills like memory for abstract symbols and strings of digits, problem solving, and facility reading emotions from strangers’ eyes.”

The age of individual participants was taken into account on each test and what they found is that different abilities mature or ripen at different ages.

”The picture that emerges from these findings is of an older brain that moves more slowly than its younger self, but is just as accurate in many areas and more adept at reading others’ moods — on top of being more knowledgeable...

“No one needs a cognitive scientist to explain that it’s better to approach a boss about a raise when he or she is in a good mood. But the older mind may be better able to head off interpersonal misjudgments and to navigate tricky situations.”

“'As in, “that person’s not happy with all your quick thinking and young person’s processing speed — he’s about to punch you,”' said Zach Hambrick, a psychology professor at Michigan State University.”

As with most brain research, this study is preliminary and far from definitive. But as reporter Benedict Carey notes (more politely than I), it does give some support to that ancient joke about old age and treachery beating youth and skill.

You will find much more detail at Carey's story in The New York Times.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Sharon Ostrow: The Bear Encounter


Thanks for the research you've done & of course done so well. It's helpful to those of us who cannot spend as much time on the PC as we would like. It's as tho' you are my tutor:):).........any way I'm going to try to find some time to follow up on your links on this subject. It is extremely encouraging to me & others who are in situations contrary to this good news. Have a great day..........we are cold, but sunny. Dee

Seems to me only logical that social judgment would improve with age and experience.

Discouraging, isn't it, when we know full well that for scientific information and studies, we should always go directly to the original source. And yet much scientific and medical research is published in professional journals kept behind subscription walls that only working professionals can afford. I had free access when I worked for the medical assn., and could read everything that even remotely interested me. Now I never get to see that material. It's very frustrating, because so many journalists don't know enough to report it accurately, if they report it at all.

Studies show that we start losing our minds at an early age, with many 30 and 40 year old's exhibiting signs of dementia. Now that the baby boomers have entered the arena, there will be more and more studies, and hopefully results, on how we deal with memory related diseases.

It's a shame that the same people were not followed, over the years, to provide more certain insight; but, I suppose I should be happy that we can get anything!

Libraries (especially if associated with an institute of higher learning) are good places to go for access to professional journals - perhaps, even, online.

The brain is so complex that I think it will take many years before it is even remotely understood. You get into things like personality, heredity and the way we are wired and it becomes very confusing while being fascinating.

The experts are still finding that different studies are conflicting.

One study purportedly showed that parts of the brain operated differently than others when shown pictures. The claim was that a conservative saw different things in the picture than a liberal The assumption was that we are wired differently at birth to be one thing or the other.

I find that to be a simplistic analysis. It completely ignores the fact that our early years mold us and our culture affects our thinking. So which comes first? The egg or the chicken? Do the people we are surrounded with mold our thinking and that, in turn, changes the action in the brain? Or is the study right in assuming that we are born to think one way or another?

Can the brain change it's pattern as we change our thinking?

(Forgive me for not using the technical terms for what happens to the brain, but I am not familiar with medical words. The study used words like the neural path, but I would probably use them incorrectly so I just related my thinking using my own simplistic terms.)

Just now I took one of the tests at and noticed that age was only one of the factors that could influence a person's score.

Another significant factor would be the level of education achieved as asked in the preliminary questions.

I think that other factors --such as the study of other languages--would have a significant impact on one's ability to select the meaning of various English words.

Oh what a memory this brought back. In my senior year of high school, as part of the university application process I went to the guidance counsellor's office and took the Wechsler intelligence test. When I got back to class my teacher (who was a mentor and a good friend) asked why test they'd given me.

I don't know why it popped into my head but I said "I can't remember the name - I think it was the Wasserman test, which is of course the test for syphillis."

The teacher had to leave the room to regain his composure, and I didn't think they were ever going to let me live it down. A couple of them even wrote in my yearbook, "Pass any Wassermans lately?"

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