Our Aging Brains

Some good news

I just spent the weekend visiting my 83 year-old mother, who moved to northern California last fall so she could be closer to grand- and great-grandkids. She loves her new home, and of course, the climate out here is unbeatable.

The most amazing thing about spending time with her now is that her mind is still sharp as a tack. She can do a crossword puzzle, even hard ones like the NY Times’ puzzle, faster than anyone I know.

The truth is, contrary to popular myth, there is now scientific evidence that our brains actually work better in many areas as we age.

We get smarter in key areas of our brain in middle age — and the definition in the studies I read pushes that number to the late 60s now.

From vocabulary to inductive reasoning, “old” brains work better than “young” 20-something brains. Our judgment of others improves, our ability to screen out the insignificant, and control our own outbursts all get better with age.

It’s true that short-term memory seems to weaken, which explains why you can’t remember where you left your glasses, or the name of the movie you saw last weekend, and the speed at which our brains process new information can be slower. But it turns out, that stuff really isn’t all that important to success in the workplace.

Your older brain is able to see the possible. Studies show that younger brains “warn” of danger and focus immediately on negatives when presented with new problems, while older brains can more fluidly find solutions because they are open to more new possiblities.

And by middle age, most of us have learned to listen to, and trust our instincts, because even when evaluation is in the subconscious, our brains are identifying patterns and connections that have led to success over the years. The neural pathways are already there.

So, mourn the loss of that beautiful body if you must, grunt and groan when you ache in places you didn’t know were yours after a day of skiing, but savor the realization that you’re smarter than ever, and your middle-aged brain will make you even more valuable in the coming years.