Barbara Strach, author of The Primal Teen: What the New Discoveries about the Teenage Brain Tell Us about Our Kids and deputy science editor and health and Medical science editor at the New York Times. A fifty-six year old baby boomer at the time of writing the book, Strach seeks to understand what exactly does middle-age mean, especially for the brain.
If you've ever been confronted with questions like "Why can't I remember why I can into this room? I know you, but who are you again? or Am I fated to fade into the gray haze of alzheimers or dementia?" you'll find the parts one and two of this book especially fascinating. (Part three: healthier brains is also interesting, but somewhat tedious with the citing of research studies, etc.)
Both my mom and grandmother were affected by diminished mental capabilities in their final years. I read this book in part to understand what is ahead for me and how I might stave off what I thought was inevitable. Stauch suggests that the middle age brain is incredibly resilient, functional and adaptable, and that it is entirely possible to put off the effects of aging. If you would like that kind of encouragement, read this book.
Contents, key questions and concepts from the book:
Part One: The Powers that Be
- Am I Losing My Mind? Sometimes, But the Gains Beat the Losses. What should I expect as I age? Can I get smarter as I get older? Hint: Evidence suggests that our cognitive abilities continue to grow as we age.
- The Best Brains of Our Lives: A Bit Slower, but So Much Better - Am I really getting better, not older? Hint: Our ability to handle complex mental challenges is at it's prime.
- A Brighter Place: I'm So Glad I'm not Young Anymore - Half-full or half-empty? In middle age, we tend to focus on the good rather than the bad.
- Experience. Judgement. Wisdom: Do We Really Know What We're Talking About? We can certainly get the gist of the issues.
- The Middle in Motion: The Midlife Crisis Conspiracy. Midlife crisis? I'll pass, thankyouverymuch.
- What Changes with Time: Glitches the Brain Learns to Deal With. What's in a name? Hint: It's a problem of retrieval, not of storage.Why can't I remember what I started, read, was looking for, etc.? Hint: In middle age, your brains are tempted to go to default mode and are easily distracted.
- Two Brains Are Better Than One: Especially Inside One Head. What happens when my left and right brain work together?
- Extra Brainpower: A Reservoir to Tap When Needed. Can I store some brainpower for the future? Hint: Yes, and there are some practical ways to do so.
- Keep Moving and Keep Your Wits: Exercise Builds Brains. So, the brain is a muscle? Hint: No, but it can be worked out.
- Food for Thought: And a Few Other Substances, as Well. Brain food? Hint: yes, and it's dark in color.
- The Brain Gym: Toning Up Your Circuits. Can I strengthen my weaknesses? Hint: you'll have to do something other than what you're doing now.
The epilogue sums up the entire reason for reading this book for me: if you expect to live longer physically, wouldn't you want to live longer mentally? Yes, I would.