There’s a lot of research these days about how the aging brain works (or doesn’t work), and what it all means. For instance, see this interesting New York Times column, “How to Train the Aging Brain,” by Barbara Strauch, the Times’s health editor. Strauch quotes from several studies and academics on the topic, obviously gathered for her intriguing-sounding new book The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain, to be published in April.
What I find most interesting, though, are the studies that show how as we get older we think in different ways. As Strauch says in her essay, “The brain as it traverses middle age, gets better at recognizing the central idea, the big picture. If kept in good shape, the brain can continue to build pathways that help its owner recognize patters, and as a consequence, see significance and even solutions much faster than a young person can.”
In other words, an aging brain becomes more and more like a design brain.
I mention other studies cited in the 2008 neurology book Progress in Brain Research
that found that as people age, their focus of attention widens and it means they can actually take in more information, not less. They notice and retain more extraneous bits of information that younger people ignore. Older minds can sometimes have trouble quickly retrieving details (like the name of that movie star, you know who I mean). However “because they’ve retained all this extra data, they’re now suddenly the better problem solvers,” according to Lynn Hasher, a professor at the University of Toronto. “They can transfer the information they’ve soaked up from one situation to another” (or to put this in terms of one of my Glimmer principles: they’re jumping fences
). Jacqui Smith, a professor at the University of Michigan, observed that that older people also are able to take new information from the situation at hand and “combine it with their greater store of general knowledge” (to form smart recombinations
I just find it comforting to know that those “tots” I experience (a research name for those tip-of-the-tongue times when you can’t call a word to mind) are just a sign that I’m moving more and more in the direction of a design mind—whether I want to or not.
No related posts, but check around GlimmerSite for lots of other interesting articles.