If movies, TV shows and magazines are to be believed, turning 60 marks the beginning of a downward spiral towards forgetfulness, dementia and, eventually, death. From this perspective, the brain is a wonderful machine that gets rustier and rustier, until it finally breaks for good. Talk about depressing!
Fortunately for baby boomers, almost everything about this concept of aging is an exaggeration. For starters, dementia is no inevitable. According to statistics from the National Institutes of Health, only 5% of people aged 71 to 79 have some form of dementia. Between the ages of 80 to 89, this percentage increases to 24.2%. But, this means that almost three-quarters of people ages 80 to 89 are not suffering from dementia.
As a society, we should continue to invest in dementia prevention and treatment. In addition, as individuals, we have a responsibility to take care of our health. But, this does not mean that we need to fear the aging process.
“That’s all very well…” you might be thinking, “but, doesn’t the brain get worse with age anyway? Even if we don’t develop dementia, aren’t we still doomed to get slower and more forgetful as we age?” Well, not really. In fact, according to this article by the Harvard Medical School, there are plenty of ways that the aging brain gets more, not less, efficient.
Specifically, the article says that:
Studies have shown that older people have better judgment, are better at making rational decisions, and are better able to screen out negativity than their juniors are.
In addition, we orient in space, reason, do basic math and express ourselves much better. This is true, in part, because older people tend to use both sides of their brain more equally. “The brain begins to compensate by using more of itself,” explains Dr. Bruce Yankner, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School.
In addition to processing information differently, we also have a lifetime of experience to draw on. When it comes to problem-solving, our experiences, skills, and unique memories are our secret weapons.
So, the next time you find yourself putting your freshly dried clothes in the trash (something I’ve actually done) or searching for your glasses, only to find them on your head (something we’ve all done) take it easy on yourself. You’re not losing your marbles. Your brain has just grown up and doesn’t feel like playing marbles any more.
Are you worried that you, or someone close to you, might develop age-related dementia at some point in the future? Were you surprised to read that, in many ways, our brains get better, not worse, as we age? Please join the conversation.
Here’s an interview that I recorded with Dr. John Medina, the author of Brain Rules.