The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain

Friday, May 21, 2010

Science writer Barbara Strauch discusses how and why the brain's capacity reaches its peak in middle age.

Her book The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind explores the latest research from neuroscien­tists and psychologists that shows that the brain reorganizes, improves in important functions, and reaches its highest level of cognitive expertise in middle age. She also explains how to maintain optimal brain health and function.


Barbara Strauch

Comments [14]

Alice Miller from Larchmont, NY

I enjoyed hearing my question about my court reporting classes discussed on the show. My bottom line question is, do you think I will have trouble attaining the extremely fast speed that is necessary to attain before being able to graduate? This requires that you type what you hear without any hesitation and, eventually, at 225 worlds per minute (using clumps of words, etc., not like regular typing).

Thank you so much for your response.

May. 21 2010 12:58 PM
Rob from East Village

I use to say I never forget a face. Now, I say I never forget a face that I remember.
I would like to believe that an adult can learn a language just as quickly as a child if they shed all the tricks in avoiding the embarrassment of mistakes and throw themselves into it.

May. 21 2010 12:49 PM
Richard from Brooklyn

I've attempted to learn French over the years and my most recent attempt, at 69, has been the most successful. I suspect it's largely because I'm more relaxed, less self-conscious, and more patient. It may take longer, but I seem to be retaining the information rather well. Richard

May. 21 2010 12:44 PM
mary from nyc

I am 59 and I have gone back to school to get a Masters Degree in Special ED

Will this help my brain development?

May. 21 2010 12:39 PM
Mike from NY, Manhattan

Several major errors in thinking or cases of lazy thinking have occurred in the interview so far:
Captain Sculley: he was an expert in emergency situations already. It was not because he was "middle aged"
The author said the following things:
- statements made about early brain imaging were "silly", e.g., "this is the part of the brain that recognizes fruit".
- This is always the first step in researh: looking at basic categories or of thinking. In this case, they were seeing if general linguistic concepts happened in specific parts of the brain: nouns, verbs, etc., and whether items within the same category are activate the same area of the brain. This let researchers settle fundamental arguments about where memories are stored, and about verbal processing and related disorders, e.g., aphagia.

- Please, a science editor using the word "schizophrenic" instead of saying "mixed feelings"? Schizophrenic does not mean having contradictory attitudes.
- Her approach to her presentation is "therapeutic", i.e., encouraging middle-aged people (myself included) to feel reassured thate we're O.K. She needs to include the cultural/historical context, e.g., people are living longer now. Could it be that, the change in research focus has occurred becaus people are indeed living longer, and there are cultural conflicts (not schizophrenia) between emphasis on marketing toward different demographic groups.

- "Language can be harder" -- it's not a matter of "can"; it's an absolute. It is biologically more difficult to learn a language if you do not grow up with it.

May. 21 2010 12:38 PM
Alan Rich from Brooklyn, NY

I found the guest to be refreshing and objective. However, her use of the word "schizophrenic" regarding our views on age was cliche and unhelpful. The random use of the term "schizophrenic" to mean confused or having multiple directions, is a word that helps perpetuate the stigma and misunderstanding about the actual condition "schizophrenia." An old article about the need to deal with such stigma and casual language usage is below. We don't use language casually to misrepresent people based on their race, religion ("that so jewish, catholic...) etc. And if we do, we at least contextualize it. People with mental illness should not be unnecessarily stigmatized with such language.,9171,977728,00.html

May. 21 2010 12:35 PM
anonyme from NY NY

Hey re getting oxygen to the brain - read Donna Eden - you can just put your hand across your forehead and hold it, wait to feel a pulse - you bring blood to your forebrain and it will take you out of a panic 9which sends the blood to reptile (fight flight freeze) brain. No need to push too hard to get blood (oxygen) to your brain...

May. 21 2010 12:35 PM
Alice Miller from Larchmont, NY

I am 58, and am a professional musician (flutist). I have just started classes in court reporting which requires you learn something that resembles a code, related to the sounds of the words that people speak. I'm doing fine, but find it takes me a moment to process what keys I'm going to have to press, and the phrases that can be written down in one stroke. Is my hesitation due to my age or just because it is such a complex and new system I'm learning?

May. 21 2010 12:28 PM
Jon Crowell from Harlem

I do not believe that the human life span has ever been 48 years, as Barbara Strauch just suggested. That may have been the life expectancy number, but life expectancy numbers often average in a large number of children who die while very young. People have been commonly living to the age of 70 and 80 in perfect health and with perfectly alert minds for thousands of years. So the middle-aged brain is not a new thing, as suggested.

May. 21 2010 12:17 PM
teja Van Wicklen from weehawken, NJ

Is there a way to get this particular show as a podcast?

May. 19 2010 03:44 PM
suzzieq from Ocean Grove , NJ

Oh yes, I do believe in the worthiness of any age. As of two years ago, at the age of 70, I was alloted the previlidge of returning to a university with a patchwork-quilt of 45 and 25 y/o credits around 121 credits, over 27 years of teaching elementary and international touring students, asurvivor of the 1940s foster care, seven years as a teaching Roman Catholic nun, married with five children blah-blah-blah. And I can truly recommend if i can learn to do it so can anyone else as I am of average intelligence and beginning in June, 2010--I begin my associates degree in criminal justice.

My goal for the next twenty years is hopefully to make a difference teaching incarcerated women to re-enter the public population with better life skills and on-and-on.
What say I--do it if you have a desire to improve memory and people skills. There is always someone we can offer someone else. Go for it--(I will be 75 y/o by the time I get certification but I will have at least 15 years to help our society. Take a chance--go for it!

May. 19 2010 08:12 AM
Jay Van Wicklen

'Grown Up' means, what age. I'm 75 and I don't believe that means 'Middle Age', or does it? I feel my brain is going 'down hill', memory-wise.

May. 18 2010 06:09 PM
D Mink from NYC

Your aging brain is great and we miss the Kitchenclub as ours age, too...

May. 18 2010 06:00 PM
marja samsom from new york city

improvisational skills of my brain must b working
overtime&successfully so, since recently my rest
the Kitchenclub closed after 20 years. at times in panic of what t do next: my brain comes up w
spectacular&practical solutions f.e.
creating 'DumplingDiva' personality t teach cooking

May. 18 2010 04:35 PM

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