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Mature Minds

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"Your brain never stops developing and changing.  It's been doing it from the time you were an embryo and it will keep doing so all your life. And this ability, perhaps, represents its greatest strength."
Stanford physics professor James Trefil.

Why such a negative image?

For many years research on older adults focused only on age-related problems such as cell loss and speed of processing. However it is beginning to be understood that most decline in mental abilities is caused by illness, such as stroke, high blood pressure, depression, Alzheimer’s and not by ageing per se. Healthy older brains have a dense forest of neural networks acquired through experience, practice, daily living and learning, and this complex brain architecture is the reason for the skills of accomplished older people. Another important insight is that the more complex the brain (the more a person has experienced and learned) the more resistance to damage from ageing, disease or injury.

Older Brains

Dr Gene Cohen, director of the Centre on Aging, Health and Humanities at George Washington University, brings together in his book 'The Mature Mind', neurological research about older brains. One  advantage of maturity is changes to the emotional circuitry in the brain enabling older people to manage feelings better, increasing possibilities for generating new ideas and beliefs that can literally resculpt the brain. Another positive change is that older brains develop the ability to tap into new regions of the opposite hemisphere for specific tasks. It is a myth that older brains cannot generate new cells. New brain imaging techniques are providing new insights as never before.

The evidence is incontrovertible: for your brain to function at its peak, your body needs to move.'Dr John Ratey.
Read more about the power of exercise on the Spring Into Life site-  Activity and Exercise 

Sharpbrains is also a useful website with information and guidance on the brain fitness and the latest hot topics. Read interview with Michael Meznerich who emphasizes the importance of physical activity and "remaining engaged in life.
'If you want to stay "sharp" you have to keep challenging your brain. Avoid taking the easy way out by trying things you aren't so good at. "I am too old to learn ..." is not a valid excuse!'
 

See also the Learning page.

Read more articles at New Horizons for Learning.

Staying alert

If you stay active and engaged with life there's a good chance you'll stay alert and bright to the end of your days. Gene Cohen’s research has identified five ways to sustain power, clarity and subtlety of mind: 

       Exercise mentally

       Exercise physically

       Pick challenging leisure activities

       Achieve mastery

       Establish strong social networks

“Adulthood is not a developmental destination or pinnacle, either psychologically or neurologically. It is the continuing evolution of our brains and our selves that constantly invites us to have a more active hand in our destiny.”

Gene Cohen, Director of Centre on Ageing, George Washington University

THE MATURE MIND by Gene Cohen MD PhD
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The positive power of the ageing brain

For links and YouTube video clips on keeping your brain in good shape go to the BrainPower page on Spring Into Life.