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How to Keep an Aging Mind on Par with a 25-Year Old's (long)

  • NJCher (1480 posts)
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    How to Keep an Aging Mind on Par with a 25-Year Old's (long)

    It’s to push through on activities that are demanding and while you’re doing it, endure activities that are not necessarily fun. As the NY Times article puts it: “work hard at something.”

    The author first establishes that there are certain older people whose mental abilities do not decline. They are, in fact, comparable to those of a 25-year old healthy, active person. A name has been given to them, and it’s “superagers.”

    It discusses a popular theory of how the brain works, which has subsequently been discredited.

    The new findings tangibly defined that the thickness of certain parts of the brain has to do with the ability to maintain memory and attention as one ages. This was studied using magnetic resonance imaging.

    Here are some snips and the link for the article, and following that, a personal example.

    nytimes.com
    How to Become a ‘Superager’
    By Lisa Feldman Barrett|Dec. 31st, 2016

    snip

    Why do some older people remain mentally nimble while others decline? “Superagers” (a term coined by the neurologist Marsel Mesulam) are those whose memory and attention isn’t merely above average for their age, but is actually on par with healthy, active 25-year-olds. My colleagues and I at Massachusetts General Hospital recently studied superagers to understand what made them tick.

    Our lab used functional magnetic resonance imaging to scan and compare the brains of 17 superagers with those of other people of similar age. We succeeded in identifying a set of brain regions that distinguished the two groups. These regions were thinner for regular agers, a result of age-related atrophy, but in superagers they were indistinguishable from those of young adults, seemingly untouched by the ravages of time.

    What are these crucial brain regions? If you asked most scientists to guess, they might nominate regions that are thought of as “cognitive” or dedicated to thinking, such as the lateral prefrontal cortex. However, that’s not what we found. Nearly all the action was in “emotional” regions, such as the midcingulate cortex and the anterior insula.

    My lab was not surprised by this discovery, because we’ve seen modern neuroscience debunk the notion that there is a distinction between “cognitive” and “emotional” brain regions.

    snip

    More at link.

    Personal story:

    When I first read this, I said note to self, are you ever in trouble! For one thing, the determining factor for many of my decisions is based on whether it will make me happy or not. If you read the article, you might concur that this maybe isn’t the greatest idea.

    However, at the same time, I’m very goal oriented. I set goals for myself every day, which are small steps that lead to larger goals I have, and I break them down into how much time I have to allocate to them each day. Whether I’m successful at this or not, it stares me right in the face, because I document my accomplishments on a bulletin board that I have to look at every time I pass through my house. In other words, if I don’t meet those goals, a big “0” stares me right in the face. If I do meet the goal, the amount of time (there’s a minimum) is documented.

    I read the subject article this a.m., but I recalled what I did yesterday. It was New Year’s Day, and the RG (Resident Gourmand, for those of you who don’t read the Cooking Forum) had gone out for the makings of a delicious feast, which he set about making. I helped him for an hour or so, but then set out on my own goal, which was to vacuum or sweep every room on the seven-room first floor of our house. This meant getting under several big armoires, behind a chest of drawers, and other miserable tasks not generally undertaken on a holiday. The reward was going to be to enjoy a five-course meal while watching movies for the afternoon.

    I set about my task, but it became apparent soon that this was going to be very nasty. Yeah, I run the vacuum around the house every week, but hey, I have three cats. I used the vacuum, the Swiffer, and a brush. Ugh! Oh, the stuff I found. At least I did not find a dead mouse, but did I ever find dust bunnies. Some of the shoes under an armoire had to be taken outside and dusted with a brush. I used up three Swiffer dusters and filled up a fair share of a new vacuum cleaner bag. I got so sick of this job that I wanted to quit. It didn’t help to see beautiful plates of appetizers appearing on the dining room table.

    The shower I had taken that morning was all for nothing, as I was going to have to take another one before the fun stuff. I was so miserable. “Why don’t you hire a cleaning lady! Other people do!” I said to myself. But I soldiered on and finished the job, took a shower, and had an enjoyable afternoon dining on sole, arugula salad with shaved parmesan and toasted pine nuts, roasted asparagus, parsnips, and baby carrots, and for dessert, apple-walnut pie with eggnog gelato.

    So I think that’s an example of sticking to it. As the article says:

    Hard work makes you feel bad in the moment. The Marine Corps has a motto that embodies this principle: “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” That is, the discomfort of exertion means you’re building muscle and discipline. Superagers are like Marines: They excel at pushing past the temporary unpleasantness of intense effort. Studies suggest that the result is a more youthful brain that helps maintain a sharper memory and a greater ability to pay attention.

    I’m glad I’m aware that there’s an even bigger reward for crummy work than just the tangible result (a clean house, for example). It will make this a little more palatable in the future.

    I don’t do this enough. I plan to increase the “Marine” quotient of my work activities.


    Cher

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14 replies
  • Marym625 (14856 posts)
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    1. This is going on The Daily Radical

    The personal story did it. We don’t put articles from other sources on The Daily Radical. But if the majority of a Topic is original content, it’s eligible.

    My family has some kind of genetic dementia. Unfortunately, my mom has it.

    If this can help stave off the inevitable for my siblings and me, I’m doing it.

    I have read, for years, that doing crossword puzzles, etc., can help keep your mind sharp. This is better. Thank you

    948c8f248a Thank you DNC, Hillary Clinton, The Hillary Clinton Players, GOP, RNC and CrossCheck for Trump. Enjoy it while it lasts. The Revolution may not be televised but it's beginning. And we'll win
    • awoke in 2003 (410 posts)
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      7. I've read that

      learning another language can help, too. I have been thinking of getting Rosetta Stone Spanish

      Call me Owen
      • Marym625 (14856 posts)
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        8. I've tried another verson of that

        Didn’t do well.  Not sure what it is about language but I seem to have a block when it comes it.

        Thanks for the idea.  Maybe I’ll try it again.

        948c8f248a Thank you DNC, Hillary Clinton, The Hillary Clinton Players, GOP, RNC and CrossCheck for Trump. Enjoy it while it lasts. The Revolution may not be televised but it's beginning. And we'll win
        • awoke in 2003 (410 posts)
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          9. I've been married

          to a Mex Am woman for 22 years- I’ve picked up all the bad words :) In second semester Spanish, the instructor asked us if we had a Mexican name in first semester. Our teacher hadn’t done that. Some people picked a name, others got the Spanish equivalent- doesn’t work with Owen. He asked me what my wife liked to call me- I said “pendejo”. After the laughing, that became ny name for the semester.

          Call me Owen
          • Marym625 (14856 posts)
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            11. Too funny!!

            That’s a great story. Good teacher too!

            948c8f248a Thank you DNC, Hillary Clinton, The Hillary Clinton Players, GOP, RNC and CrossCheck for Trump. Enjoy it while it lasts. The Revolution may not be televised but it's beginning. And we'll win
  • LiberalElite (3674 posts)
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    2. This is EXACTLY what I needed to read, to get me off my fat *** Thanks! nt

    I feel much better since I've given up hope
  • FanBoy (6260 posts)
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    3. I'm guessing that "doing something difficult" = building new brain

    capacity, new memories etc and simultaneously “keeping things functioning” (if there is such a thing brain wise).

    So it’s related to the crossword puzzle thing in a way.  Basic similarity is ‘don’t just lie back and rust’

    Storage of new skills & new memories = takes more time for everything to fall away/apart or else just keeping things moving = takes more time for things to fall apart/away

    Also, to the extent that part of the laying down of new memory is 2ndary to new physical activity, there’s also the fact of keeping the physical machine going, blood flow to the brain etc.

    I’ve seen it so often that people are convinced they can’t do X because they’re too old now = self-fulfilling prophecy.  I bought into it myself after I was ill; decided my illness had permanently affected my brain and body.  (I was on drugs for my illness then which made it much easier to just lie back and not challenge my body or mind…not sure why I was even on those drugs, the rationale they gave me never made sense…)  Once off the drugs it took about half a year to clear the brain fog and start thinking (somewhat) clearly again…

    • FanBoy (6260 posts)
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      4. after reading the article and thinking about it a bit, though —

      I’d wager there’s a class component involved as well.

      The road to superaging is difficult, though, because these brain regions have another intriguing property: When they increase in activity, you tend to feel pretty bad — tired, stymied, frustrated. Think about the last time you grappled with a math problem or pushed yourself to your physical limits. Hard work makes you feel bad in the moment…Superagers are like Marines: They excel at pushing past the temporary unpleasantness of intense effort. Studies suggest that the result is a more youthful brain that helps maintain a sharper memory and a greater ability to pay attention…You must expend enough effort that you feel some “yuck.” Do it till it hurts, and then a bit more.

      In the United States, we are obsessed with happiness. But as people get older, research shows, they cultivate happiness by avoiding unpleasant situations. This is sometimes a good idea, as when you avoid a rude neighbor. But if people consistently sidestep the discomfort of mental effort or physical exertion, this restraint can be detrimental to the brain. All brain tissue gets thinner from disuse. If you don’t use it, you lose it…

      http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/31/opinion/sunday/how-to-become-a-superager.html

       

      Class component = first, the well-known fact that the lower you are on the class ladder, the earlier you die; 2) the lower you are, the less control you have over most things, including the kind of “challenges” you’re faced with and the tools you have to meet them; 3)

       

      Reminds me of a local outdoor club — populated mainly by upper middle class types, some of whom are extremely fit for their ages — like climbing mountains and traveling the world into their 80s and pretty active socially as well.  I’d bet they might be classified as “superagers”.

      They’re also, almost uniformly, very well off.  Some have had a little extra help as well.  Plus, they mostly lean right wing.  Lean — though some would probably call themselves dems — it’s never on economic issues, where the furthest they go is to say “we” should help the “deserving poor”.  By which they mean kids (especially), old people and maybe seriously handicapped.  And the help is generally just enough to sustain life — nothing that makes it worth living.

      Sometimes I think of them as vampires, actually.

      I’d bet that the research is skewed that way, despite the fact that poorer couch/tv potatoes may also be “challenging” themselves on a daily basis — but not by choice, and often the unrelenting nature of those challenges may lead people to just give up.

      • bvar22 (298 posts)
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        12. I will wager that the most important component…..

        …is genetics.

        Somebody with a genetic predisposition for arthritis is NOT going to be “jogging” into their 60s. I know, I’ve been there.

        In my 30s, I raced 10K against the Olympic Champion that year (New Orleans Crescent City Classic, Olympic Qualifying Race). He won, gave his press interview, changed his clothes and left before I crossed the finish line…..
        but I was coming.

        In my 40s, I couldn’t run anymore because of arthritis in my feet and knees. THAT is a fact of life… there is NO WAY around that, no matter what the OP says.

        Genetics is the MAIN criteria for the mythological “Super Aging”.
        We have all seen the 70 year old man who still runs marathons….. but have you ever seen one who has WON one?

        We ALL slow down as we get older.
        Case closed.

        • FanBoy (6260 posts)
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          13. I partly agree, but the statistics show that disability and age at death

          proceeds stepwise by income/wealth brackets, with the poor being the sickest and the wealthy being the healthiest and the middle being in the middle.  So I’d guess it’s true, if you have genetic predisposition to (X disease) you’re going to get it and be disabled/die earlier, but I’d also guess that:

          1. the degree of disability and speed of death will still show the effect of  income/wealth bracket, and
          2. those kind of risks are spread fairly evenly through the population regardless of income/wealth

           

  • bvar22 (298 posts)
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    5. Good article, but a word of caution for those over 50.

    Check with your Doctor and have a heart stress test before starting a vigorous exercise routine.

     

    • SamIam (6 posts)
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      6. A better, more accurate and telling test of your heart health is a

      CAC. You could have a stress test today, have your doc proclaim you “good to go” and drop dead tomorrow.

       

      • bvar22 (298 posts)
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        10. Checking with your doctor is the important part.

        There are some physical abilities that diminish with age. This is completely natural.

        I have been living in the woods for the last 10 years, and my very active routine hasn’t changed. My wife and I have taken pride in doing everything ourselves with an absolute minimum of power tools. At 55,  I was building out buildings, tilling gardens, digging holes with a pick and shovel for fence lines, digging trenches with a pick and shovel for laying irrigation limes (and we have HARD ground here), carrying 80 pound sacks of cement on my shoulder, carrying 2 40 pound sacks of chicken feed, one on each shoulder uphill, split hardwood with and axe, and a maul and wedge when I wanted a real workout. Cutting, carrying and stacking firewood (Oak and Hickory here). Repaired our vehicles.

        Now that I am 65, my ability to do these things has noticeably diminished. I can no longer hoist an 80 pound sack of cement on my shoulder, and my ability to tolerate heat and cold has also diminished. This is not from sitting on my ass. My very active routine has stayed the same, it just takes me longer, and I have to make more trips. I need help to carry a sheet of 3/4 plywood, and more than 3 2X4s. I used to carry them by the armload.

        One of the most distressing things that happened to me this year was when I was going to do a routine brake job on my truck (I have no garage or slab, I just find a flat spot in the grass). After crawling under the truck to set the cribbing and jack on the axle, and jacking it up, I had trouble crawling back out and standing up. I had to lie there for a while.

        I see a doctor regularly, and take blood pressure medication. When I mentioned the loss of strength and endurance, he said, “Bob, you are going to be 66 this year. Would you like to see 67? If so, you will have to start hiring people to do these things for you. Slow the F*** down.”

        So, you don’t mind if I take the OP with a grain of salt, because I have lived it.

        OTOH, I keep my mind challenged with strategy and shooter video games. I haven’t slowed down there at all. If anything, I’m faster than ever.

        • NJCher (1480 posts)
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          14. the OP refers to the mind, not the body

          and your illustration is all about physical abilities.

          What the article is saying is that pushing to a level of discomfort to finish on any task, be it physical or mental, produces the “super ager,” the person who has the brain that can’t be distinguished from a 25-year old’s (thicker tissue, not thinner).

          In the United States, we are obsessed with happiness. But as people get older, research shows, they cultivate happiness by avoiding unpleasant situations. This is sometimes a good idea, as when you avoid a rude neighbor. But if people consistently sidestep the discomfort of mental effort or physical exertion, this restraint can be detrimental to the brain. All brain tissue gets thinner from disuse. If you don’t use it, you lose it…\

          You say to take the OP with a grain of salt, but in asking people to do so, you are asking them to disregard science. Is that really what you want them to do?


          Cher