“Keeping active can increase your brain power. Scientists have discovered that the human brain can improve with advancing years, dispelling the common belief that a person’s mental faculties peak in their twenties.” Steven Swinford and Richard Kerbaj*
Even if some of us are still not sure what we’re going to do when we grow up, many of us more mature people are a bit apprehensive about the possible onset of the dreaded Mental Brewer’s Droop in its various manifestations, from minor short-term memory loss to the big A. (Don’t forget that next week is Alzheimers Awareness and Appeal Week*).
But it seems that while short-term memory may, in fact, decline with old age, long-term memory in most people remains unaffected and a person’s vocabulary, emotional intelligence and social skills may all get better.
In their recent article Brain Power Peaks In The Silver Set * Swinford and Kerbaj pulled together an interesting synthesis of recent studies which are part of a wider reappraisal of research into intelligence that began several years ago and which “has overturned the notion that intelligence peaks in the late twenties, prompting a long, slow and inevitable decline.”*
Older people are able to retain and hone an effective a range of skills. Until now some in the more mature ranks have been more concerned with dandruff than dentrites, but it appears that expert knowledge is stored in brain cells known as dendritic spines which seem to be protected against ageing by a metaphorical silver lining.
When it comes to decision making, it also turns out that older people are more likely to be rational than young people because their brains are less susceptible to surges of dopamine, the feelgood hormone that can lead to impulsive reactions and dopey decisions. Despite slower brain speed, older people apparently solve problems more efficiently, drawing on “cognitive templates” of how they resolved similar problems in the past. The key is the process for problem solving not the content of the answer.
We know that top sports people are considered over the hill in their mid-30s but many of the most influential people in politics, business, law, literature and science are in their late fifties and sixties or older. Management gurus W. Edwards Deming and Peter Drucker were both still lecturing in their mid-90s.
Not only changing demographic patterns but also the loss of significant cognitive resources have led to demands for the retirement age to be lifted in some professions in the UK.
New Zealand no longer has an obligatory retirement age, though age 65, when national superannuation kicks in, has become the target retirement age for many New Zealanders, but an increasing number are staying on in the work force, not necessarily because they have to but because they want to. However, the older and more experienced often struggle to hold on to their present positions, let alone gain new ones.
The ageist struggle starts more than two decades earlier for executive aspirants. Over the years there have been different invisible barriers in respect to senior management jobs. First the class ceiling, which kept out those from the wrong side of the school tracks; then the glass ceiling, which kept out women. Now it’s the crass ceiling which favours the young and brash at the expense of the mature and experienced. In the light of the findings above, this is waste management.
My view is that “retirement” should be spelt “retyrement” and it should be about finding new ways of getting traction for one’s distilled experience and knowledge in a society which is data and information rich but knowledge and wisdom poor.
We’ve heard a lot about Generations X and Y. Let’s now hear it for Generation S-the 65+years old silver set. Those of us in this age bracket are in our element: just as silver is precious, with the highest electrical conductivity of any metal, the new research demonstrates that silver-lined neurons are pretty good at conducting the impulses which are the functional units of the nervous system. With the right physical and mental exercise, neurons can be kept in better nick at later life passages for more people than hitherto thought.
A sad minority have real problems. In 2008 about 40,000 Kiwis, or about 1% of the population, sufferered from dementia. With demographic changes, this number is predicted to rise by 400% by mid century.
But pre-shroud every cloud has a silver lining. Synonyms for silver include bright, lustrous, resplendent and sterling. Most members of Generation S are capable of rendering sterling service if they keep their knowledge and skills polished.
Let’s go on the attack and claim back the feel good 60s song Hi-Ho Silver Lining back from English football clubs like Everton who, after England’s World Cup performance, deserve a song with a much whiter shade of pale and make it the anthem of a resplendent Silver Generation.
Hi-Ho Silver Lining* (Scott English / Larry Weiss) You're everywhere and nowhere, baby, That's where you're at Going down the bumpy hillside in your hippie hat Flying across the country and getting fat Saying everything is groovy When your tires are flat And it's hi-ho silver lining Anywhere you go now, baby I see your sun is shining but I will make a fuss Though it's obvious Flies are in your pea soup, baby They're waving at me Anything you want is yours now, Only nothing's for free Life's a-gonna get you someday, Just wait and see So put up your beach umbrella While you're watching TV And it's hi-ho silver lining Anywhere you go, well, baby I see your sun is shining but I will make a fuss Though it's obvious
Brain power peaks in the silver set Steven Swinford and Richard Kerbaj Sunday Times 27 June 2010 www.alzheimers.org.nz For information and to donate
http://themindperspective.files.wordpress.com Neuron visual etc
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DD7KkJopku8 Hi-Ho Silver Lining- first released as a single in March 1967 by The Attack and a few days later by Jeff Beck Vid
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KYPoRFRhVzE&feature=related -Everton Fans at Wembley Singing Hi-Ho Silver Lining Vid
Send “Hi Ho Silver Lining” Ringtone to your Cell