Senior Moments: The Wise Old Brain

I‘m Maggie Wright, and I help Rose at The Foundation for Living Medicine. Being a Senior Boomer (born in the late 1940s), I am sometimes hounded by those Senior Moments of forgetting things. But, I try to treat each incident with a creative attitude and sense of humor. For example, everything is made of energy, including our thoughts. Therefore, I assume that when a thought “slips my mind,” it is, indeed, still sitting in the air at the place at which I had lost it. So, I retrace my steps, seeking my lost thought energy. Shockingly, it returns. Sometimes, I do little rituals with it and laugh.

Lately, there has been a lot of research that supports the thesis that healthy senior minds slip because they are so wise and full of information. Similar to computer hard drives that slow down when they have too much information, our Senior brains are slower at bringing up or recalling facts because they are chock full of information.

Actually, there are two factors going on. First, as the brain fills with more information, it slows down. Secondly, the brain also slows due to the aging process of our bodies. According to “imaging studies,” the aging brain shrinks in areas of learning, reason, and memory. However, even though our senior brains may experience some ‘shrinkage of age,’ having, and even adding more information, actually helps them to compensate.

The Test of Research

Linguistic researcher, Michael Ramscar, from the University of Tubingen in Germany, conducted a test to compare the memories of younger versus older persons (20-year-olds versus 70-year-olds).To do this, Dr. Ramscar created computer simulation models that replicated younger and older brains.Based on results, he theorized that the slowness and slight forgetfulness of seniors was natural, due to the aging of the brain and larger knowledge base.

Basically, there are two kinds of general intelligence: fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence. According to Wikipedia, fluid intelligence is the ability to think in logical terms and solve novel situations. By contrast, crystallized intelligence is the ability to use stored knowledge, skills, and experience. It is more about being able to use the skills from knowledge and experience, based on long-term memory. Obviously, seniors are stronger in crystallized intelligence, given their years of experience and wisdom. According to psychologist, Zach Hambrick, of Michigan State University, the Ramscar study group is really conjecturing that the increases in crystallized intelligence as people age, can account… (and compensate)… for their fluid intelligence declines.

So, what does this mean? It means that as we age, we may be a little slower, but we’re still awfully smart. We may forget more often as we age, but we make up for it by our abilities to utilize our skills and experiences based on a larger base of stored knowledge.

Empowering Our Brains

Scientists are proving that the brain continues to develop and grow as one ages. Therefore, we Seniors and Senior Boomers should keep on learning and building our brains. Although it may take us longer to learn or memorize facts, educators are suggesting that we challenge our brains in new ways. For example, according to a NY Times article, Dr. Kathleen Taylor, from St. Mary’s College of California, suggests that we build our brains by scrambling things up a bit… get out of our comfort zones and stretch. Get out of the box and look at points of view that are different from ours and then critically reflect. Look at the big picture from many vantage points. Challenge our own perceptions from different views. Again, think out of the box and reflect.

As world issues become more complex, the skill-set of the Senior Brain will be more in demand. I believe that Seniors will be called upon to draw upon their expertise and knowledge bases, while, at the same time, “repurposing their skills” to resolve community and world conflicts. So, Seniors, don’t worry about the day-to-day Senior Moments, instead, let’s FOCUS on how we can collaborate to build a better world.

Please share with us any exercises and/or other ways through which you are honing your skills and sharpening your mind.

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