A sobering, though somewhat encouraging, story on the middle-age brain, by The New York Times' Barbara Strauch, offers a glimmer of hope for those of us in the 40-to-60-year-old set. Stauch reports:
Brains in middle age, which, with increased life spans, now stretches from the 40s to late 60s, also get more easily distracted. Start boiling water for pasta, go answer the doorbell and — whoosh — all thoughts of boiling water disappear. Indeed, aging brains, even in the middle years, fall into what’s called the default mode, during which the mind wanders off and begin daydreaming.
Given all this, the question arises, can an old brain learn, and then remember what it learns? Put another way, is this a brain that should be in school?
As it happens, yes. While it’s tempting to focus on the flaws in older brains, that inducement overlooks how capable they’ve become. Over the past several years, scientists have looked deeper into how brains age and confirmed that they continue to develop through and beyond middle age.
Many longheld views, including the one that 40 percent of brain cells are lost, have been overturned. What is stuffed into your head may not have vanished but has simply been squirreled away in the folds of your neurons.
This program aired on January 1, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.