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Mental-pause: It’s all in your mind

Posted Sep 22 2008 11:00am

Note: This guest-post is by Eileen Williams, the owner of “The Feisty Side of Fifty.” It’s part of my Introductions series while I’m touring. Enjoy! And be sure to visit Eileen at her blog.

Many women over fifty complain they become more forgetful. In fact, some have affectionately dubbed this phenomenon “mental-pause,” and there are real physiological reasons behind it. There are estrogen receptors throughout your brain, including the hippocampus, and this is the part involved in certain aspects of memory. So, when estrogen levels drop, your brain and your ability for recall are affected.

In fact, I know this to be true in my own life. Things seem to be slipping through the cracks, and every day brings fresh surprises and more than a few awkward moments. I have to confess to frequently drifting off into my personal, inner space—not certain where that is, but I can assure you it’s well endowed with black holes.

So, are we older gals forever doomed to sending out those embarrassing “I forgot your birthday” cards? Will we never again recall with ease telephone numbers, significant dates, or names of those near to us? Will endless searches for our glasses, important papers, or that great book we were reading be our final destiny? Not so fast—there’s some good news too!

In her book about women’s second adulthood, Inventing the Rest of Our Lives, Suzanne Braun Levine provides us with some exiting data concerning the aging brain. Dr. Francine Benes, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, has discovered that there is a growth spurt that takes place in the human brain around the age of fifty. Myelin, which is the fatty layer that covers nerve fibers, actually grows about fifty percent during this time. This coating is responsible for aiding the brain to more effectively synthesize life experiences and to enhance the ability to make thoughtful judgments and prudent decisions.

Even better, the location of this growth spurt is found within the area of the cerebral cortex that is identified with emotional learning. Perhaps, as Levine suggests, this myelin growth factor may likely play a part in creating the highly revered trait that we call wisdom.

So, next time we hunt for our car keys, call our son by the dog’s name, or forget to tell our husband his boss phoned, we have to remember that somewhere in our noggin there’s a whole heap of wisdom going on!

Eileen Williams

The Feisty Side of Fifty

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