Late Friday afternoon at the Festival brought me to a session for the middle-aged (which it turns out I am – age range is apparently 40 to 68, although Barbara describes this range as ‘squishy’ (which I also am …)). A vigorous conversation between Barbara Strauch and Kim Hill, this was a great introduction to Barbara’s recent book, Secrets of the Grown-Up Brain. I’m about halfway through this book at the moment, and am finding it both scary and reassuring.
Sadly for many in the audience, the particular mystery of the missing car keys remained unsolved during the session, although the book has a lot more clues about what’s going on in our minds as we age.
There’s both good news and bad, it seems. There are just some things that decline with age, and episodic memory is one of them. It sucks, but it’s life, apparently. The good news, however, is that other abilities have been shown to improve with age, things like logical reasoning, and problem-solving. And although parts of our brains are dying off, we have what’s called a ‘cognitive reserve’, a kind of emergency stash of brain power that we can call on as needed. Also, according to new research, and in contrast to previously held beliefs, we can and do create new brain cells, even as we age.
Barbara described some of the myths of middle age – empty nest syndrome (based on a study of 15 or so women living in a mental institution), and the midlife crisis (apparently suffered by only 5 % of the population). She also talked about the ‘culture of decline’ in the West, where we have been conditioned to believe that life is all downhill after 35.
This was another of those fascinating sessions that it’s impossible to do justice to in a short blog post, and as I said in a previous post – go, find the book, read the book, discuss the book! And then you can come and help me find my keys …