My blogging friend Indiana Jen has posted an interesting link to a National Geographic article about “The Adolescent Brain”, concluding that although the brain grows very little after the age of 12, it undergoes profound organizational and even structural changes until about the age of 25. The study on which the article was based however did not extend to another question I have, which is to what degree is the adult brain capable of changing?
When I was young it was thought that brain cells no longer replicated after adolescence, i.e., they no longer died and were replaced like other cells in the body. That has been found to be untrue. Just based on my personal experience I believe that adult brains are more flexible than most people think, even in septuagenarians like myself. Here are several examples from my own experience.
- After reading an article about a decade ago I decided that it would be desirable to change one of my driving habits, i.e., how I used the side mirrors on the car. Instead of positioning them to see directly behind me on either side, I adjusted them to cover the blind spots on the aft quarters of the car. For the nautically-learned this is from about 120 to 160 degrees and from 200 to 240 degrees on the relative compass. It did indeed eliminate the blind spots. I would guess it took me a couple of weeks of conscious concentration to reprogram my instincts, but the satisfaction I got from how successful it was helped to motivate me. I was unable to persuade my wife to attempt the change, but fortunately our car has a programmable adjustment for both seat and mirrors.
- You may think me a little (or a lot) nutty for this one, but I am what I am. I am a crossword and puzzle enthusiast and several years ago I noticed that my printing tended to be rather illegible for some letters, particularly the letters B, D, G, P and R, so I devised a better way to make each and with fewer strokes and I now use the new method instinctively. These letters are now made differently from what had been my habit for many decades.
- When I retired, one of the diversions I took up was playing video games on X-box, particularly Halo. I found it a challenge at first – the controller consists of multiple buttons and levers and the game requires fast reactions for the employments of various weapons and activities. The availability of an “easy” mode helped considerably. I would be no match for a teen-age geek hooked on such games I’m sure, but I can get through the game pretty well otherwise.
- I changed from using a Microsoft-based PC to an Apple computer three years ago, a not inconsiderable learning curve – especially with no Apple store nearby. I rate this fairly high on the learning-curve scale.
Now here’s the bottom line to all this. Age-related brain changes have for sure been documented, so do one’s efforts to adapt and learn new things help to ward off any of the various forms of dementia or brain shrinkage? Beats me, but I am resolved to keep on keeping on as long as I can. I refuse to go gentle into “that good night”. My fellow bloggers are helping the effort too, and my thanks go out to all of you – didn’t know you were aiding the elderly, did you?