the middle-aged brain

I had a birthday yesterday, and I really can't believe that I turned mfnty-pgfzt. I have to say, though, that I feel that I am doing well. I am exercising regularly and we are doing a good job with respect to what we eat.

Like most people my age, however, I do have those brain lapses. I'll confidently walk into a room to get something and then totally forget what it was I walked into the room to get.

So it is with interest that I am reading The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind by Barbara Strauch. It turns out that as we get older, our brains can still do great things.

First Strauch tells a story on herself and a friend.

  My own most recent worst case was when I tried—really tried—to get a book for a book club I’m in. I
went online and carefully ordered The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Then, a week later, I had a free
moment at work and I thought, Oh, I should order that book club book. I went online and carefully typed
in an order for The Alchemist—again. Then a few days later, jogging in the park, a faint bell went off
in my head and I thought, I think I ordered the wrong book. At home, I checked my e-mail and, sure
enough, we were supposed to read The Archivist by Martha Cooley. I’d ordered the wrong book—twice.
And that wasn’t the end of it. Later that week, I was talking with a fellow book club member,
a neurologist, who, after hearing my embarrassing story, started to laugh. It turned out that she’d gone
to the library to get the book club book and had just as carefully come home with a copy of The Alienist,
by Caleb Carr. So there you go. Two middle-aged brains, three wrong books.

But then she goes on to say:

  For the first time, researchers are pulling apart such qualities as judgment and wisdom and finding out
how and why they develop. Neuroscientists are pinpointing how our neurons—and even the genes that
govern them—adapt and even improve with age. “I’d have to say from what we know now,” says Laura
Carstensen, director of the Stanford Center on Longevity at Stanford University and a leader of the
new research, “that the middle-aged brain is downright formidable.” A friend who is a poet told me
recently that she does not think that she could have written the poetry she does until she had
reached her mid-fifties—until her brain had reached its formidable age. “It feels like all the
pieces needed to come together,” she said. “It’s only now that my brain feels ready. It can see
how the world fits together—and make poetry out of it.”

I'm really enjoying the book. If you're in roughly the same age demographic as I am, you might find it engaging as well.

2 Comments on “the middle-aged brain”

  1. Tahoe Mom says:

    I’m a little “rougher” than you are in the age demographic ~ and I do remember when I turned 50, people suddenly started to listen with intent to what I had to say. Not that they hadn’t listened before. They had. And I have one clear memory of starting to make a comment in a meeting and having everyone in the circle turn toward me with interest and intent. Later I wondered what might have changed and again wondered if it just might have been my age. Thanks for the book recommendation.

  2. Alison says:

    Most important, a belated Happy Birthday.
    Second: I loved Carr’s The Alienist, and even more its sequel.
    Third: um, oh….. it must be that middle-aged thing.
    Love you (and Terry)

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