Sunday, May 24, 2015


I recently came upon some information that was quite encouraging. A psychologist named Dean Simonton discovered that what had been thought as age-related cognitive decline was not actually a function of age, but rather a function of disciplinary age, in other words, how long a person has been in a specific vocation or area of study. People who change careers or foci are able to rejuvenate their brains. 

Another psychologist, Marian Diamond, confirmed this. Further, in her research on aged rodents, she found that a rich environment made for more synapses, stronger connections, and even more neural growth.

Interestingly, this finding also ties into research on addiction. Rats given two water bottles, one with just water, one with water laced with heroin or cocaine, would generally choose and continue returning to the drugged water. Researcher Bruce Alexander found, though, that addicted rats that were moved to new cages containing toys and tunnels and friends seemed to become "happy" and voluntarily left the drugs, choosing to drink only from the water bottle. Meanwhile, the "unhappy" rats, alone and unstimulated, continued on with their drug use.

In short, he found that lonely, isolated rats turned to drugs; happy, social rats had little interest in them. This overturned the conventional wisdom on addiction.* 

Exercise is also a factor in brain plasticity and growth. According to Carl W. Cotman and Nicole C. Berchtold, "Voluntary exercise can increase levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor and other growth factors, stimulate neurogenesis, increase resistance to brain insult and improve learning and mental performance... Thus, exercise could provide a simple means to maintain brain function and promote brain plasticity."**

Of course, I regret all the wasted years in the cult, but I am heartened that all is not lost. My brain has not deteriorated beyond help. By devoting myself to new areas of study, exercising daily in a variety of ways from walking and climbing to swimming and weight training, and opening my mind up to a vast variety of input, I can still make progress and not necessarily become a doddering old fool.

* Addiction:  The View from Rat Park, Bruce K. Alexander, 2010
** Exercise:  a behavioral intervention to enhance brain health and plasticity, Carl W. Cotman and Nicole C. Berchtold, 2002

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