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The Aging Brain: Brain Plasticity

Posted Jan 01 2010 12:00am
It’s no surprise that the most emailed story over the weekend was from The New York Times about the aging brain. After all, we know that no one under 40 reads the paper anymore. Embracing the online version of news is indicative of the middle age brain’s ability to adapt to new ways of thinking, in this case, new technologies.

This speaks to the heart of what neuroscientists call brain plasticity: “The brain is plastic and continues to change, not in getting bigger but allowing for greater complexity and deeper understanding,” says Kathleen Taylor, a professor at St. Mary’s College of California, who has studied ways to teach adults effectively. “As adults we may not always learn quite as fast, but we are set up for this next developmental step.”

The middle age brain gets better at recognizing the big picture. As we age, the brain continues to build pathways that help us recognize patterns, if we keep ourselves mentally challenged.

This thinking goes beyond playing brain teasers like Sudoku. Researches recommend challenging previously help assumptions to really stretch your brain. Adopting an opposing viewpoint and creating an internal debate, for example, will really get your neurons firing.

Dr. Taylor says. “We have to crack the cognitive egg and scramble it up. And if you learn something this way, when you think of it again you’ll have an overlay of complexity you didn’t have before — and help your brain keep developing as well.”

Now I understand why my father enjoyed the Point-Counterpoint segment on 60 Minutes in the 70s with Shana Alexander and that other guy, what’s his name?
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