EDITORIAL NOTE: Today is a holiday in the U.S. and I'm giving myself a little extra time off – mostly by republishing a post from AARP. If, like me, you're one of the people who have issues with AARP, calm down. This is informative work from one of their research organizations.
There is a lot of nonsense promulgated about ageing brains. Yes, we find oursevles forgetting names or losing too much time looking for our reading glasses but most beliefs about cognitive decline in old age are myths.
A few weeks ago, the Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH) which is an independent collaborative of scientists, health professionals, scholars and policy experts that was convened by AARP and recently issued their 2017 report on cognitive ability and brain health.
Here are seven of the myths identified in the GCBH survey as reported by AARP:
“1. Older people can’t learn new things. Not so. Trying new activities can actually stimulate cognitive skills. Seeking out new social connections that involve learning names and information about the people you meet, going back to school and taking up a new musical instrument are just a few examples of activities that can boost your brain health.
“2. You’re stuck with the brain you were born with. Also not true. Brains are made up of cells called neurons. While it’s true that most of the neurons are created before birth, studies have shown that new neurons can be created in the area of the brain that deals with learning and memory. Researchers hope that by better understanding how new neurons are created, they can help individuals with brain injuries and neurodegenerative diseases.
“3. Experts don’t have a clue about how the brain works. Actually, scientists are learning more about the brain every day. Granted, it is a complicated organ. But new treatments for neurological conditions are coming to light, and researchers expect exciting breakthroughs down the road.
“4. It’s inevitable that older people will get dementia as they age. Not true. Dementia can be caused by Alzheimer’s disease or age-related events, such as a stroke. But getting older doesn’t automatically mean you will get dementia. And it doesn’t mean you are developing dementia if you can’t remember the name of an old acquaintance you run into at the grocery store.
“5. Learning a new language is for the young. It is usually easier for children to pick up a new language, as sentence structure tends to be less complex for them — and they tend to be less self-conscious when trying something new. But adults also can learn a new language. In some countries, such as Sweden, it’s common for retired people to take classes for a third language.
“6. Older people are doomed to forget things. Being forgetful about details such as names and facts happens to everyone, no matter his or her age. Poor memory can often be attributed to lack of attention. Some helpful tips on remembering include writing things down (such as shopping lists) and taking note of visual details associated with your surroundings.
“7. Just take memory training, and you’ll be fine. Not exactly. While it’s a good idea to look for ways to fine-tune your memory, if you don’t practice those skills and keep challenging your brain, all that hard work will be wasted. It’s the ultimate 'use it or lose it' advice.”
There are a lot of things we can do to maintain our cognitive abilities as the years pile up. (By the way, widely advertised “brain games” are not one of them. Repeated research over several years has shown that their value is iffy at best.)
But cognitively stimulating activities are. Here's a GCBH infographic about with an overview of how to keep challenging your brain:
And here is a GCBH library page with links to many other sources of brain health information.