How to Keep Your Brain Young

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Grow More Creative

The good news is that, while our ability to remember may fade with age, the brain continues to accrue more knowledge. In other words, it might take us longer to dredge up a particular word from our memory banks, but we know more words overall. And along with our vocabularies, our ability to solve problems and perform new tasks can expand as we age.

Barry Gordon, MD, professor of neurology and cognitive science at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, in Baltimore, has written a book on this topic called Intelligent Memory, which he defines as the ability to use facts and figures to solve problems, innovate, and think creatively. Some famous inventions and discoveries probably sprang from this sort of memory. Dr. Gordon cites the case of George de Mestral, whose observations of how burrs cling to clothing gave him the brainstorm that led him, in his 40s, to create Velcro.

"As people mature, they can integrate data into a larger framework," says Lawrence Katz, PhD, professor of neurobiology at Duke University Medical Center, in Durham, North Carolina. "They see the connections between things and their ability to think strategically, on large scales, increases." So, while a 15-year-old might learn and remember a fact more easily, a 35-year-old understands it in a broader context and sees the possible ramifications. In short, the old chestnut really is true: Younger people may be smarter, but older people are wiser.

Sheila McCabe Taylor, 37, of Annapolis, Maryland, made this discovery firsthand. When the newly divorced mother of four decided to return to college in her early 30s to become a paralegal, she was apprehensive. Would she remember how to study and take notes? Was her mind too rusty to memorize loads of information? As it turns out, Taylor has done extremely well in her classes, not least because her life experience (including her divorce) had already taught her a lot about the legal system. "In many ways, I have an advantage over the younger people in my classes," she admits. "Because I'm so motivated, I'm more focused and I listen better. You don't really understand the importance of these things until you've matured." In fact, Taylor is so enthralled with her new field that she now plans to earn her law degree and work in family law.

Continued on page 3:  Use It or Lose It

 

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