You know the comedy routine: a ‘senior citizen’ tears the house apart looking for his reading glasses only to find them, perched on top of his head. It’s been called a ‘senior moment,’ but it’s only funny if you find stereotypes about the aging brain humorous. Well, Gene Cohen, M.D., Ph.D., the first Director of the Center on Aging, Health & Humanities at George Washington University, has news for us on the other side of 50: it ain’t necessarily so. The brain is far more malleable than has been supposed.
In his back-to-back addresses to the Life Planning Network pre-conference and the First Annual Positive Aging Conference, held December 5-8 at Eckerd College, St. Petersburg, Florida, Dr. Cohen mixed cutting edge evidence about brain regeneration (there’s more to the line, use it or lose it than you might think) with flashes of wit. Creativity and practical intelligence actually increase with age, Cohen told some 200 professionals including life planners, life coaches, career counselors, social workers and psychotherapists — most of them 50 or better and eager to serve clients in the age cohort.
As an example of a new kind of ‘senior moment,’ he told a story about his own parents. Visiting Cohen and his wife one winter, the elder Cohens found themselves marooned in an unfamiliar part of the city by a snow storm, with nary a taxi in sight. The solution: they ordered a pizza ‘to go,’ and had themselves delivered to their son’s address with it.
“It’s not at all about denying the very real problems associated with aging,” Cohen said. “It’s all about not denying th very real potential associated with aging. Any program that doesn’t consider both [the problem and the potential], is not state of the art.”
The fact is, the brain — once thought to have all the neurons it could — can continue to regenerate and experience can actually have an impact on brain structure. We have, Cohen said, “a built-in inner push [which is] an evolutionary component of aging. Furthermore, it never leaves us.” Midlife can and should be more than a ‘crisis.’ For many it is a flowering of creativity coupled with a feisty sense of self that manifests in ‘second acts,’ ‘encore careers,’ and a strong desire to make a positive impact on society.
For more on the conference, visit Positive Aging Conference
Here’s a report that rebuts the notion that aging and disability go hand in hand.
Here’s how to keep your brain sharp so you can give ‘senior moment’ a whole new meaning.