Belief #3. My mind gets richer and better with age

In the 1950’s researchers reported that you lose 100,000 brain cells a day and that senility is inevitable if you live to 100. Your brain has about a trillion neurons. Even if the 100,000 neurons a day were true, at 150 you would still have 99 per cent of your brain’s neurons. More precise research methodology and the use of computers, however, have discredited the dying cell research and yielded a more optimistic picture of aging. Recent research finds that you can grow new brain cells at any age.

Brickey often hear people make remarks such as, “My mind isn’t what it used to be.” It sounds harmless, but if you make remarks like that often enough you will come to believe them. Your mind is like a muscle. Use it and it grows strong. If idle, it withers. Research with nuns at a convent found that while they all had the same routine, ate the same food, etc., the nuns who were better educated or who continued learning were less likely to develop Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Consider an analogy with computers. As you age your hard drives acquire a richer and richer data set. You also acquire a richer and richer collection of programs (software). Last year Brickey taught his teenage son how to drive. He thought it would be a snap with all the computer games he plays. It wasn’t. He said he couldn’t believe how complicated it was to watch the road in front and behind, the instrument panel, the signs, etc. Brickey suspects that when you drive, you are so bored you are also listening to radio, or talking with someone, or talking on your cell phone, or putting on makeup. Because you have a well-developed program for driving, you only need a small portion of your short-term memory to monitor what is happening. Programs are why a sixty-year-old experienced bridge player can run circles around someone who has only been playing for a few years. Her unconscious mind’s program catches the patterns.

It is true that as you age, your processing speed (megahertz) becomes a little slower. Would you really want to trade that richer hard drive and rich array of programs for the anemic hard drive and programs of a teenager just to get a faster processing speed? Not a good trade.

If you are inclined to make a remark like “I just can’t remember things very well anymore,” be kind to yourself and remember that you have much larger, richer data files to search than a younger person has. So it may take a little longer. You know a lot more Smiths and Jones and you have seen a lot more faces.

One of my pet peeves is “senior moments.” It says you are brain damaged so you aren’t even going to try to remember. Rather, ask yourself, am I stressed? tired? sleep deprived? taking medication? had a few drinks? Any of these keep your memory from being sharp. Tell yourself, “It will come to me.” That’s telling your unconscious mind to keep searching while you go on to other things. Often five minutes later the name comes to you. Sometimes a chance association will trigger the memory. Keep yourself in the game by trusting your memory.


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