Brain Myths

(Five Brain Myths to Consider)

Myths about What Happens to the Brain as People Get Older

Will old age destroy the mind? The fear is that if one is lucky enough to escape Alzheimer's and other diseases that attack the brain, old age inevitably brings about the mind's decline.

The image of a feeble-minded old person lies deeply entrenched in the American psyche, leaving many people to loathe the idea of growing old nearly as much as death itself.

An old aunt, or uncle, who is mentally sharp does not give much comfort to others, primarily because either one seems to be an outstanding exception and not part of the norm.

A group of scientists who study the aging brain are putting together enough information to offer a hopeful judgment on the fate of our minds. From neuroscientists who study the brain in action to clinical psychologists who work with the elderly in their everyday lives, researchers are finding that severe mental decline is not inevitable and that an "old brain" may have surprising abilities and strengths.

Scientists suspect that many genetic and environmental factors play a part in distinguishing those who keep their faculties in prime shape from those who show significant decline.

Click on a Myth number to get information about each topic:

Myth #1: It Only Gets Worse.

A person is not necessarily destined for a steep mental decline. Research indicates that a third of those over 70 function as well as ever.

Myth #2: Memory Is the First to Go.

A person's store of facts and procedures should be unaffected by aging, but one's capacity for abstract reasoning may fade over time.

Myth #3: Use It or Lose It.

Yes, up to a point. Simply engaging in boring or repetitive mental activity won't stave off decline. Pursue eclectic interests; that is, treating the brain to novel experiences and stimuli seems to be a key to keeping the mind agile.

Myth #4: Sound Body, Sound Mind.

Physical health does not always assist the vigor of your intellect; sometimes, exercise that's too intense may hurt your mental abilities.

Myth #5: You Can't Teach an Old Dog New Tricks.

An old brain can rewire itself to compensate for losses, and refresher courses can keep your mind sharp.

Do's and don'ts for keeping sharp.

A brain user's guide to aging.

—Compiled from information located in
"Brain Power", by Joannie M. Schrof in U.S. News & World Report;
November 28, 1994; pages 89-97.

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