Older IS Better!
I recently attended an educational seminar presented by Gene Cohen, M.D. Ph.D.
Dr. Cohen has had a successful career studying the aging population and discovering many of the positive changes that occur in the brain. It may be hard to believe that a part of our bodies can actually get better with age. However, studies show that our minds, in fact, improve as we grow older.
For way too long, the images of aging have been negative myth
s, stereotypes and misinformation about the process. Problems can, and do, occur with aging but a person’s potential has too often been ignored and misunderstood. The latest research indicates that we experience positive brain changes along with psychological growth and development throughout our entire lives! During the second half of our lives, our cognitive, emotional and social skills, along with our judgment, become more mature and better integrated. Dr. Cohen refers to this process as developmental intelligence which is the basis of what we call “WISDOM”. The old saying, “growing older and wiser”, is true. Scientific research has shown that many positive things happen later in life, not despite aging, but because of the aging process.
Our brains continually generate new cells until we die. We can stimulate our brains to produce cells by engaging in challenging activities and experiences. Believe it or not, just moving into a new home will cause enough challenge for a person to generate new brain cells. Activities such as playing dominoes or cards, doing puzzles, listening to music, and especially singing along to music, exercising, and even reading, can help to make you smarter. They also promote the health of our brains.
For those at risk of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, it is believed that exercising the brain and body will delay the onset of these diseases.
Another study has found that the brain expands its memory storage from our early 50’s to late 70’s. During that time, the brain enlarges its ability to handle the processing of complicated information. Thus, our aging brains are working with us and for us to maximize our mental capacities for the second half of life.
I returned to college in my late 30’s. I was concerned that I would not be able to keep up with the workload like the younger students. One professor told me that I shouldn’t worry because the older brain was more sophisticated. It could process information more efficiently and retain it better than the brain of a younger student.
He was right! I found that I was a better student in my 30’s, 40’s or 50’s than I was at a younger age.
We all know our brains are made up of two halves. We use the left side for some tasks and the right side for others. Scientists have recently discovered that, around middle age, we begin to use both sides of the brain simultaneously. This integration improves brain function. In addition, we experience a deepened emotional capacity and a greater propensity for thinking. This “maturing” of the mind improves our capacities for cognition, judgment, emotional intelligence, social intelligence, life experience and consciousness (including spirituality).
In conclusion, this seminar proved what I knew all along. In many regards, older is better. Our society is often too quick to discount the value of our aging population. It is refreshing and exciting to see such positive research on the aging process.
Submitted by Carol McKee, R.N.
Administrator, Farrar Home