Like fine wine, your brain gets better with age. No, it’s not a joke. Yes, brains do start having trouble with short-term memory as they age, but according to a new book, The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain, our middle-aged brains actually do many things better than younger noggins can.
You’re skeptical, aren’t you? Too many times you’ve walked into a room, and can’t remember what it was you were after. Too often, you’ve forgotten the name of a person you met just minutes ago. And don’t even get started about the daily game of “where did I put those damn keys?”
In an interview in the NY Times, author Barbara Strauch acknowledges our forgetfulness, and says there are also declines in processing speed and in neurotransmitters in the middle-aged brain. But she says in some things, our boomer brains are better than ever. What kinds of things?
Inductive reasoning and problem solving — the logical use of your brain and actually getting to solutions. We get the gist of an argument better. We’re better at sizing up a situation and reaching a creative solution. They found social expertise peaks in middle age. That’s basically sorting out the world: are you a good guy or a bad guy? Harvard has studied how people make financial judgments. It peaks, and we get the best at it in middle age.
So, if I read that right…we should all be great at playing the stock market at this stage in our lives.
And the news gets even better. Strauch says scientists have debunked many of the “facts” of life after 40:
A lot of the myths we think of in terms of middle age, myths that I grew up with, turn out to be based on almost nothing. Things like the midlife crisis or the empty nest syndrome. We’re brought up to think we’ll enter middle age and it will be kind of gloomy. But as scientists look at real people, they find out the contrary. One study of men found that well-being peaked at age 65. Over and over they find that middle age, instead of being a time of depression and decline, is actually a time of being more optimistic overall.
While Strauch says that was the most surprising thing she learned while writing this book, I found the following discovery to be an even bigger surprise:
…if you talk to people who disagree with you, that helps your brain wake up and refine your arguments and shake up the cognitive egg, which is what you want to do.
Really? Well then, get ready my “red state” friends! I will be calling each and every one of you this week for a little “brain exercise.”