Brain Becomes Slower But Shrewder With Age

Brain ScanEncouraging news from the boomers’ favorite news service, NPR:

For baby-boomers, there is both good news and bad news about the cognitive health of the aging brain.

Brain researcher Gary Small from UCLA conveys the bad news first: “Reaction time is slower,” he says. “It takes us longer to learn new information. Sometimes it takes us longer to retrieve information, so we have that tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon — where you almost have that word or that thought. That’s typical of the middle-age brain.”

As we age, our ability to multi-task diminishes. “We’re quick, but we’re sloppy when we’re in middle-age. We make more errors when we’re in middle age,” says Small.

The Older, But Wiser, Brain

But Small has found that it’s not all bad news. He points to a continued improvement in complex reasoning skills as we enter middle age. Small suggests that this increase may be due to a process in the brain called “myelination.” Myelin is the insulation wrapped around brain cells that increases their conductivity — the speed with which information travels from brain cell to brain cell. And the myelination doesn’t reach its peak until middle age. By this point, says Small, “the neuro-circuits fire more rapidly, as if you’re going from dial-up to DSL.” Complex reasoning skills improve, and we’re able to anticipate problems and reason things out better than when we were young.

And, Small adds, there’s another area of improvement as we age: empathy — the ability to understand the emotional point of view of another. Empathy increases as we age.

‘Your Brain On Google’

One of the great discoveries from recent neuroscience research is that the human brain is always changing, from moment to moment and throughout life. It continues to develop, and even continues to grow new brain cells…

[continues at NPR]

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  • justagirl

    what’s up with that pic? LOL! it’s supposed to be a brain or some dirty laundry after a paintball match. i can’t wait to get smarter. YAY for shrewd brain cells!

  • justagirl

    what's up with that pic? LOL! it's supposed to be a brain or some dirty laundry after a paintball match. i can't wait to get smarter. YAY for shrewd brain cells!

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