Barbara Strauch and the mystery of the missing keys

Barbara StrauchLate 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 …

Jigsaw puzzles, brains and other grey matters

At Redwood Library we have WiFi  and we have jigsaws. Hard to believe they’d even be in the same room together, let alone the same sentence. But WiFi is the library flavour of the month and  jigsaws are hot news after a 26 April article in The Press (you can read it in Press Display) which featured a lovely lady who uses jigsaws as stress relief after the quake.

There are no books called Jigsaw Puzzles through the Ages or The Dummies Guide to Jigsaws. I know because I looked. However, several community libraries have a jigsaw exchange system which works like a treat.

So far, it’s mainly senior citizens who avail themselves of this service, and when they are all up and jigging, as it were, they may be doing more than just passing the time pleasantly, according to the excellent book Secrets of the grown-up brain by Barbara Strauch.

Strauch would probably be a fan of using jigsaws to help stave off Alzheimers, provided you did them whilst jogging, or at the very least with your left hand (assuming you are right-handed), whilst drinking a glass of red wine and snacking on blueberries. Then, quite possibly, you may never grow old at all. Strauch gives a cracker example of the world’s oldest woman, who took up fencing at 85 and lived to be 122. But you know jigsawing will be a better fit than fencing in most retirement units.

Still I worry about the lovely lady in The Press – how quickly can she get her puzzle under the table? I’d hate her to get to piece number 2499 of a 2500 piece puzzle only to find that the next quake means she has to start again!