The Richard Nicholls Podcast

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Episode 143: Old Age & The Brain

It’s almost Easter already and even though we’ve put the clocks forward it seems like only yesterday when we put them back an hour in the Autumn.
Time flies! I’ve mentioned before that 12 months to a 60 year old will obviously feel 6 times quicker than it does to a 10 year old but there’s also another reason. Novelty.
The older we get, the fewer new experiences we have. Maybe due to some stubbornness because “I know what I like and I’m not wasting what precious time I have left on anything new incase it’s a waste of time”.
But also simply because there is so much that we’ve already done or seen that new experiences are hard to come by, but not impossible. If you feel that life is flying by maybe it’s time to try something new. That doesn’t mean it’s time for a mid-life crisis though. Something new doesn’t have to mean you leave your spouse and travel the world on a Harley Davidson.
Learn to dance, join a local community group, learn a new language. That’s lots you can do, but it takes a bit of faith in yourself too be able to get started. Confidence in your ability to learn maybe. After all the older we get the harder it seems to be to learn something doesn’t it? Well, yes. Research has shown that brain processing power seems to peak at age 18. But vocabulary skills don’t peak until we’re in our 60’s.
So rest assured that if you’re approaching old age you may well forget what you walked into a room for but at least you can describe your frustration about it eloquently.

We may all slow down a bit as we get older, but you can teach an old dog new tricks. Intelligence is made up of two aspects. “Fluid" intelligence and “Crystallised" intelligence.
Fluid intelligence is genetically determined, it’s our natural intelligence. Crystallised intelligence is controlled by our education and experiences. Our developed intelligence.

Research has shown that both aspects of our intelligence increase as we age until we hit a point somewhere between age 50 and 70 when our natural intelligence begins gradually to decline. But our developed intelligence, the Crystallised intelligence actually carries on increasing the more life experience and education we get.

What we lose in one way we gain in another and our total intelligence stays the same throughout our life. Of course this is in the absence of disease, Dementia may well be a cruel killer but the rates of it are at the lowest they’ve ever been. Less than 10% so we’re more than 9 times more likely to die of something else.

So, in the absence of disease the worst that can happen to our intelligence is that it stays the same. We’re just as smart as we were when we were younger but we have to work harder at learning anything new.
But there are extra benefits that come with ageing. According to research having that great natural ability to learn is wasted on the youth. The younger we are, the less we are able to actually apply our skills in the first place.
People under 30 may well learn more quickly but are not as well equipped to apply their new knowledge to life as older adults are. In order to apply our skills we need experience and life education i
Older adults might take longer to master a skill. But research has shown that they can apply new learning to life more quickly and accurately than younger folk can.

After all, you can’t be put in a coma aged 25 for 30 years and wake up aged 55 with 30 years of wisdom can you?
So, we shouldn’t worry about growing older, it comes with some great benefits. Also to seems that there’s something in the famous phrase “You’re only as old as you feel”.
A study in 2006 of adults over 60 was undertaken to examine what allowed people to feel that they were ageing productively.
Was it how much money they had saved up? Their family? Their education?

It turns out that over 90 percent rated themselves as ageing productively despite having illnesses or disabilities.

It seems that “Productive Aging” is not actually related to our age, our level of education, our marital status, or how much money we have saved. The research showed that those things had no correlation to how satisfied the participants were with their life.

It’s obtained by spending time reading and listening to the radio. In participating in activities, having close friends and visiting the family.

As researchers have begun looking at the aging brain, they’ve learned that it is far more flexible and adaptable than we previously thought.
Everything we do through our life modifies our brain in some way. All because of the wisdom and understanding that comes from living.

You’re not going to enjoy a romance novel unless you understand love.
You can’t fully appreciate a war film until you have a concept of humanity. Or a poem or a song about losing a love one until you really know how that must feel.
Our appreciation of everything comes from living our life. Something that we’re all doing right now. So our future is only going to get better and better because of it.