Saturday, January 21, 2012

Older, Yes. Slower, Yes. Better, Yes!

Physical and cognitive functions decline as we age to this is usually no argument.  We walk slower, can’t work outdoors as long as we did when we were young, and many physical tasks that were once easy are now a bit more difficult.  Names are forgotten, past events become faded or lost memories and walking into a room for an item becomes an unpleasant task when we don’t remember what we were looking for. 
But don’t despair they tell us.  This is normal.  Oh, crap!  I had a great thought to write and now I stare at a partial sentence on the computer screen.  But I say don’t believe them, researchers have good news.  WE ARE GETTING BETTER.  (All caps to tell you I’m shouting, because our hearing is bad).
I’ve read a few articles about middle age brains.  One article summarizes a book by Barbara Strauch, “The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain.”  I must admit I haven’t read the book, so my very lean thoughts are a summary of a summary.  Strauch suggests that our brains are not on a steady decline and may be improving.  We are improve like aged cheese, a fine wine and old songs.  While horses don’t fare so well with age the good news is that they are put out to pasture to be studs.
Brain function slows down, we forget things.  Ask any senior citizen.  I have forgotten more names than I can remember.
Our brains are like a full file cabinet, full of experiences.  It just takes longer to find the information we need.  Perhaps the contents have been reshuffled or moved to different drawers.  Information is misfiled.  The chocolate cake recipe we are searching for is not with cakes but with our favorite Aunt who gave you the recipe.  Remembering names is not a memory issue but a matter of finding them in the overfilled file cabinet of a lifetime of events, people and memories. 
Tests show that inductive reasoning, verbal skills, vocabulary and wisdom are better.  Logic is improved by experience; we can filter out the junk faster and judge character in others better.    Repeated experiences seem to reinforce each other and develop into that wonderful place: been there, done that.  We don’t forget how to ride a bike, swim, knit, or work with hand tools.  We may be slower at these functions, arthritis makes these tasks more difficult and we avoid them.  But we know how, we are on autopilot.  Problem solving utilizes the mass of previous events and we know what has or hadn’t worked in the past to solve current issues.
Life is like shampooing your hair: wash, rinse, repeat.   Been there and done that.  We are good at filtering out the irrelevant, the extraneous and unimportant facts.  When we were young we wanted to find ourselves; now we know who we are.  The searching mode of our youth, life without experiences, is behind us.
Seniors function better without the stresses of trying to get ahead at work, raising young families, going to school, or trying to do it all as active adults.  Seniors handle emotional swings of life in a different way than they did when they were young.  Most of us don’t sweat the little stuff.  We know what is important. 
But I guess I am lecturing the choir.  You’ve been there and done that. 

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