My wife gets on me for being too “negative.” I usually respond by saying, “I’m not negative,” which makes her case. So I decided to find something positive to write about and I found an article that those of you in my generation may find encouraging.
When a person’s name doesn’t come to you or you can’t remember a place you visited on vacation or you can’t recall the name of a movie, don’t worry. It happens to everyone who has lived a few decades past puberty. It’s funny how the information may pop into your mind when you stop trying and move to something else. But sometimes it never “pops.”
Sarah Knapton is a Science Correspondent. Unfortunately, I can’t remember where I read her article (See? That’s what I mean.), but I’ll give you the essence of her research. She states that scientists now believe that the brains of older people only appear to slow down because they have so much information to compute. She relates it to a computer hard drive that gets filled up and slows down in the course of processing information.
In my studies of psychology way back in college, I remember “retroactive inhibition” and it’s opposite, “proactive inhibition.” Retroactive inhibition is the idea that retention of learned skills or material is impaired by subsequent learning. This is especially common when the material is similar in kind to the new material learned. In other words, things you learn now are contributing to further burying or altering related information you may have learned years ago.
Proactive inhibition is the tendency for earlier memories to interfere with the retrieval of material learned later. So information you have stored interferes with new information.
Think of it as facts and information piled on top of each other with old stuff more difficult to access having been buried by new stuff. The longer you live, the more information you’ve accumulated and the less readily available old information becomes or maybe the more it interferes with new learning and recent memories. Both processes create cognitive “inhibitions.”
Dr. Michael Ramscar, a researcher in this field, says that this normal slowing down is not the same as cognitive decline. The brain just slows down in older people and he claims that the brains of older people don’t get weaker. It’s just that they simply know more. He says older people are actually smarter. I love that part.
Scientists at a German university used computers to compare the accumulation of information to the human brain. They found that the computers also slowed down as the data base increased. More data requires more time to process. Young people, for example, do better pairing unrelated non-sense items than older people. This is due to the fact that older people have learned that such pairing is illogical based on experience.
I’ve also read that when you pass from room to room, in your house for example, thoughts are sometimes left in the room you just left. It’s some sort of “doorway” phenomenon. Maybe that’s why I can’t remember where the car keys are when I walk into my den and leave the keys in the kitchen.
Then this morning I read about brain shrinkage in older people. I guess you start to worry when you can feel your brain bouncing around inside your skull. Who knows what to believe? I know people actually shrink in size as they age. I’m not as tall as I used to be. I literally ran into a friend I haven’t seen for many years and knocked him over. He had shrunk to the point that I thought he was further away when I ran right into him.
Without going further, just rest assured that when names, dates, places, and things don’t immediately come to mind, you’re not losing it. In fact, you may just know too much. As you age, you can’t run as fast as you once did, but you learn shortcuts to get to your destination.
Getting older can actually be fun. No one freaks out if you have socks of a different color or forget to zip up your fly. (That actually happened to me once.) When you’re a certain age, people expect you to have your pants on backwards. Having gray hair is liberating.
In short, I was looking for something positive to write about today and I thought this article by Sarah Knapton was encouraging. I just wish I could remember where I read it.