Older Brains can be Better, Smarter Brains, from the April 2015 Harvard Women's Health Watch

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As we age, the brain compensates for slower processing by using more of its capacity for tasks that require reasoning and judgment.

Forgetting a name or two, taking longer to finish the crossword, or finding it hard to manage several tasks at once doesn't mean dementia is just around the corner. These experiences may actually be signs that the aging brain is changing the way it works. In many ways, it's actually working better. Older people have better judgment, are better at making rational decisions, and are better able to screen out negativity than their juniors, reports the April 2015 Harvard Women's Health Watch.

"The brain begins to compensate by using more of itself," explains Dr. Bruce Yankner, professor of genetics and co-director of the Paul F. Glenn Laboratories for the Biological Mechanisms of Aging at Harvard Medical School.
Here are several ways an older individual may outperform his or her younger self:

Inductive reasoning. Older people are less likely to rush to judgment and more likely to reach the right conclusion based on the information at hand. This is an enormous help in everyday problem solving, from planning the most efficient way to do errands to managing staff at work.

Verbal expression. During middle age, many people continue to expand their vocabulary and hone their ability to express themselves.

Basic math. Splitting the check and figuring the tip when lunching with friends may come easier simply due to years of practice.

Accentuating the positive. The amygdala, the area of the brain that consolidates emotion and memory, is less responsive to negatively charged situations in older people than in younger ones. This may explain why studies have shown that people over 60 tend to brood less.

Read the full-length article: "Why you should thank your aging brain"    

Also in the April 2015 Harvard Women's Health Watch:

  • Do you need an "advanced" cholesterol test?
  • 6 ways to enjoy adding fiber to your diet
  • How to drive safely at night

Harvard Women's Health Watch is available from Harvard Health Publications, the publishing division of Harvard Medical School, for $20 per year. Subscribe at http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/womens or by calling 877-649-9457 (toll-free).


Media: Contact Kristen Rapoza at hhpmedia(at)hms(dot)harvard(dot)edu for a complimentary copy of the newsletter, or to receive our press releases directly.

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Kristen Rapoza
Harvard Health Publications
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