Posted by: Admin | August 8, 2010


My kids call it the Mum-dance. It’s a ritual that takes place every time I leave the house and involves yours truly darting backwards and forwards looking for keys, purse, glasses and a final check that I’ve remembered to put on my shoes.

One of the most irritating – and most anxiety making – aspects of middle age is the changes that appear to take place in the brain as we age. The words that escape you, the names that won’t appear: these are signs of the slowing down of memory and reaction times. There is also some evidence that older people take longer to learn new things and that, worryingly, are more likely to make mistakes than when they were younger. So what’s the good news?

Stay inquisitive if you want to remain sharp

Well, a recent study in the US has found that, contrary to the received wisdom that brain cells die off with age and aren’t replaced, in fact brain cells continue to grow, meaning that there is no reason why the middle-aged brain can’t absorb new information. Better still, another US study has shown that it’s possible to increase the plasticity – or adaptability – of the brain through physical exercise. (Note to off-spring: that “Mum-dance” has a real-world application)

The good news continues as researchers have found that complex reasoning skills actually improve in middle age, meaning that we grasp and anticipate problems better than ever. We also become more empathetic with age, understanding and connecting with other people more easily.

Barbara Strauch, in her bookThe Secret Life of the Grownup Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind claims that much of the memory loss we believe to be inevitable is simply down to bad habits and expectation. A 2009 study showed that white matter in the brain increases with age, peaking in mid-life, and that, contrary to earlier scientific findings, white matter is more important than the grey when it comes to utilising information. Wisdom could therefore be explained by the older brain’s facility for assessing a situation quickly and accurately and its ability to make cool, measured decisions.

It would seem, then, that we can all look forward to many more years of active brain function. Just remember that, like anything else, if you don’t want to lose it, you need to use it! Now, where did I put those glasses…



  1. Being old is not the problem. Getting old is. Once you get past the getting old part it’s rather easy.
    I am finding it easier and easier to learn new things. I can now remember the difference between a simile and a metaphor. I more often than not remember how to spell. My fingers can find the notes on my Uke. I can remember my phone numbers, all three of them. The internal workings of things are no longer such a mystery. Now if I could just remember what it I was I was going say in this comment everything would be cool.

    • Is it that you don’t remember what you’ve forgotten? Thanks for commenting, oldfool. I’ve been following your blog with interest and tried to comment a couple of times, but blogger keeps rejecting me 😦
      It’s not just your site either, and looking at the forums it seems I’m not alone. So I’m with you in spirit, mate, I just can’t take part! x

  2. I’ve been senile since I was about 14 so old age holds no fears for me! The upside is that I can now BLAME it on being older whereas before, I had no excuse.

    But seriously (!) I actually find that unless I’m really stressed, I absorb and retain information much better nowadays and I understand stuff more and can concentrate better. But if I’m laden down with worries, I forget words, I’m less articulate and I can’t remember names, dates, appointments anything. I also shouldn’t drive, as I can’t concentrate.

    Not age. Stress. NURSE!!!!

  3. I quite agree, WH – I’m far more scatty when I’ve got a lot on my plate. Bloomin’ irritating since that’s when I most need to be on the ball.
    Since we’ve often more to be stressed about as we grow older, it stands to reason that memory loss is stress, not age, related. We should have had a research grant, you and me!

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