Try these questions:

January February March April January February March May January February March June January February March ________

What’s next?

January February Wednesday March April Wednesday May June Wednesday July August Wednesday _______

What’s next?

1 4 3 2 5 4 3 6 5 _____

What’s the next number?

How did you do?

These are the kind of logic and reasoning questions that researchers use to test our cognitive processes.  Barbara Strauch, author of The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain, includes them in a chapter that illustrates that our brains are getting a little slower as we age but they are also better.


I know–you may not believe it.  But there’s research behind it.

The Seattle Longitudinal Study, run by the very serious-looking Doctors Schaie and Willis, has been publishing some remarkable findings.  Since 1956 they have tracked residents of Seattle to track how the brains are holding up. The fascinating and heartening news is that the middle-aged participants (aged 40-64) actually tested BETTER than they did when they were younger in four areas:

  • Vocabulary (women do slightly better here)
  • Verbal memory (women do slightly better here)
  • Spatial orientation (the men do slightly better here)
  • Inductive reasoning

Snap!  Our brains are are awesome.

Maybe Maggie….but why do I go into the kitchen and forget why I went there?

Of course, there are some declines with age.  Processing speed declines (a little more slowly in men).  The two cognitive areas that declined for the Seattle Study participants are number ability (how fast can you do math) and perceptual speed (hitting a button when a light comes on–reaction time).

Still, as Strauch goes on to explore, the study holds fascinating implications for, say, aging in the workplace.  As the explosion of brain research continues we’re dispelling myth after myth about the aging brain.  Which means fewer limits to meaningful contributions as we age.