The Beauty of the Grown-Up Brain

Published On: June 25th, 2021Categories: book report, creativity

It’s Not as Bad as You Might Think

Barbara Strauch belongs to a book club.  She remembered that she needed to order the next book and, so, got online and ordered The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.  A week later she ran into her friend, a neurologist, who is also in the book club (smart book club!) and he mentioned that he’d picked up that month’s selection, The Alienist by Caleb Carr.

As it happens their book club was actually reading The Archivist by Martha Cooley.

Barbara is not an idiot.  She is a journalist and tells this story in an introductory chapter of The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain. I have had that same feeling.  “Am I losing my mind?!   And why did I come into the kitchen just now?”

Indeed, there are certain cognitive functions that wane as we age (such as processing speed and the ones that help us remember names) but the good news is that our brains are at their peak in middle age.  Let me write that again because it makes me happy: OUR BRAINS ARE AT THEIR PEAK IN MIDDLE AGE.
And it “may stay there longer than any of us dared hope” according to researchers.

During middle age (generally defined as ages 40-68) our brains begin to reorganize.  They start to act and think differently.  Among the strengths of the midlife brain Strauch notes:

  • it cuts through the muddle to find solutions; the brain knows what to ignore, when to zig, when to zag.
  • our brain stays cool and adjusts.
  • changes are taking place that allow us to see a fuller picture of the world–even be wildly creative.
  • our ability to make accurate judgements grows stronger.
  • our brains build up patterns of connections; these are interwoven with existing layers of knowledge that allow recognition of similar patterns.

After all, it was a middle-aged man and crew who safely landed the plane in the Hudson River and senior boat captains who quickly sped to the rescue.

So, do not despair.  Yes, your brain is changing–mostly for the better.


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