I've had a bit of a break skiing with the kids, staying at a cabin, and had plenty of time to read with no internet access. One of the next books I am reading next is about the middle-age mind.
The NYTimes has a review. Here are a few excerpts.
Doesn’t that make sense, since our young adult lives are often marked by bad decisions?
I think most of us think that while we make bad decisions in our 20s, we also have the idea that we were the sharpest we ever were when we were in college or graduate school. People think if I tried to go to engineering school or medical school now, I couldn’t do it. Because of these memory problems that happen in middle age, we tend to think of our brains as, on the whole, worse than in our 20s. But on the whole, they’re better.
So what’s happening in middle age that leads to these improvements?
What we have by middle age is all sorts of connections and pathways that have been built up in our brain that help us. They know from studies that humans and animals do better if they have a little information about a situation before they encounter it. By middle age we’ve seen a lot. We’ve been there, done that. Our brains are primed to navigate the world better because they’ve been navigating the world better for longer.
There also are some other physical changes that they can see. We used to think we lost 30 percent of our brain cells as we age. But that’s not true. We keep them. That’s probably the most encouraging finding about the physical nature of our brain cells.
And guess what a lot of those ideas about middle age brains are myths.
What was the most surprising thing you learned about the middle-aged brain?
The hope I saw from real scientists was surprising. A lot of the myths we think of in terms of middle age, myths that I grew up with, turn out to be based on almost nothing. Things like the midlife crisis or the empty nest syndrome. We’re brought up to think we’ll enter middle age and it will be kind of gloomy. But as scientists look at real people, they find out the contrary. One study of men found that well-being peaked at age 65. Over and over they find that middle age, instead of being a time of depression and decline, is actually a time of being more optimistic overall.
Maybe the media trying to sell the products to make you young were ones who convinced us middle age was bad.
I don't know about you, but I enjoy being 51 better than being 21, or 31. 41 wasn't too bad. Oh yeh, that's when I started middle age.