What We’re Reading is an ongoing series of book reviews by the folks at your UTC Library featuring selections from our collection.
Title: The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind
By: Barbara Strauch
Find it here: RC451.4.M54 S77 2010 (3rd Floor)
Many of us manage to live well into our 80s and 90s these days and, if we can manage to keep our brains intact during that time, we are doing well. What does the secret life of a grown-up brain mean in the 21st century? According to this book, researchers have found that the brain is at the peak of its performance and stays there longer than previously expected. It finds solutions, knows what to ignore, and stays cool and adjusts to the situation. While bodily changes like weight gain, eye sight, grey hair, and wrinkles occur in and around 50s, most recent findings show that most deficits in important parts of the brain occur around age 70. What the sociologists, psychologists, neurologists find is that the brain does not necessarily age like the rest of the body. Our brains vary greatly in terms of which functions decline and which maintain their capacity, and which even grow and reach new heights. Part of our memory, especially the part that retains names, declines. At the same time our ability to judge people, jobs, and finances grows. We recognize situations and find solutions. There is evidence that we are smarter than the previous generation.
The middle-aged brain adapts rather than gives up. Those with the highest cognitive skills are able to do that. At middle age people use two sides of their brain instead of one — a trick called bi-lateralization. Those who use the frontal cortex in particular develop cognitive reserve, which is thought to be a buffer against aging. This helps them get to the point faster than younger peers. They get the gist or size up a situation and act judiciously rather than hastily. This reserve may help us ward off early Alzheimer’s disease. There are strong hints that education or working may be the key to building this brain buffer for a lifetime.
The key is to develop this buffer and to keep it. We now know that if we maintain a normal path of aging without major illnesses, our brains can stay in relatively good shape. Studies are being done on various types of foods like blueberries, omega 3 fatty acids, red wine, low calorie diets, exercise, and more to find out what makes a difference in warding off disease and prolonging life. Researchers are studying the chemical properties of these foods to find out their effects on human brains. Others are working on finding a pill that can do the same. It seems we can keep our brains healthy for a long time.
Read this book and develop your frontal cortex!
Sarla Murgui is a Reference Librarian at UTC Library.