A leading science writer examines how the brain's capacity reaches its peak in middle age. For many years, scientists thought that the human brain simply decayed over time and its dying cells led to memory slips, fuzzy logic, negative thinking, and even depression. But new research from neuroscientists and psychologists suggests that, in fact, the brain reorganizes, improves in important functions, and even helps us adopt a more optimistic outlook in middle age. Growth of white matter and brain connectors allow us to recognize patterns faster, make better judgments, and find unique solutions to problems. Scientists call these traits cognitive expertise and they reach their highest levels in middle age.
In her impeccably researched book, science writer Barbara Strauch explores the latest findings that demonstrate, through the use of technology such as brain scans, that the middle-aged brain is more flexible and more capable than previously thought. For the first time, long-term studies show that our view of middle age has been misleading and incomplete. By detailing exactly the normal, healthy brain functions over time, Strauch also explains how its optimal processes can be maintained.
Part scientific survey, part how-to guide, The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain is a fascinating glimpse at our surprisingly talented middle-aged minds.
Since 2006 I have hosted the Brain Science Podcast, which has given me the opportunity to interview a wide variety of neuroscientists. While this book was written by a science journalist, not a scientist, I enjoyed the way she incorporated current research into a discussion of a subject that concerns almost everyone.
Strauch points out that as we get older we tend to worry about why we forget the names of people we know (and those of people we just met) and we seem to be more easily distracted, BUT we fail to notice our mental strengths.
In this book you will learn what the research shows about how for most of us, the gains outweigh the losses.
I have recommended this book to all my listeners.
Ginger Campbell, MD
Creator and Host of the Brain Science Podcast
36 of 36 people found this review helpful
I have a novice's interest in neuroplasticity and related issues. Barbara Strauch has done a great job of bringing me up to speed on the latest understanding of the brain and mid-life. Along the way she clearly distinguishes what we know about cognitive development (no evidence for the Empty Nest Syndrome) and what we don't know (what foods will help us gain mental strength).
The prose is nontechnical and readily available to the uninitiated. Nona Pipes is up to her best in the reading. It will be of interest to a broad spectrum of listeners. Give it a try.
23 of 23 people found this review helpful
As a 38 year old who's starting to really feel the changes in how my brain works I was obviously drawn to this book. But unlike most books on the subject this one was absolutely fascinating and a pleasure to listen to. The author uses the most up to date scientific studies which is of the utmost importance to me and the reader was a joy to listen to. It explains a lot about what happens to our brains during that phase of our lives and offers some good advice on how to stop certain types of decline that is rooted in science and not just holistic new age mumbo jumbo that most books of this genre tend to use. All in all I can't recommend this book more highly if you're in the 35-65 age range.
18 of 18 people found this review helpful
What if the real purpose of education should be to prepare our brains to function well throughout our lifespan? What if our explicit goals shift from creating brains that can operate well in the economy (or whatever other institutional missions we promote), to the goal of fostering cognitive reserves? What if promoting healthy brains was the best mechanism for creating productive citizens, and all the other values we believe in as educators and educational institutions were best served in service of the brain?
I'm starting to come to the conclusion that the brain, our brains, is a theme that should cut across all disciplines. That we should put the brain at the center of our educational system for purely selfish and self-interested reasons, namely that we all need do whatever we can to insure that we experience successful brain aging.
The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind, by Barbara Strauch is a wonderful book. Strauch is a generous and wise author, writing about the middle-age brain through a combination of stories and science that seems well calibrated to the brains of her readers.
We learn that while the middle-age brain may not have the rapid processing power of its younger version, these deficits are more than made up for by increased abilities in judgment, expertise, and effectiveness. Our middle-age brains see the world in a more positive light and accurate light, and are much better at juggling all the demands that life throws at us.
The big revelation of "The Grown-up Brain" is that we have within our power to determine much of the course of our own brain aging. Through diligent mental and physical exercise, a reasonable diet, and a positive orientation towards our work and relationships we can significantly and dramatically protect our brains against cognitive slow-downs and dementia.
A prediction: Over the next twenty-years our colleges and universities will make a change from teaching to prepare for the job market to teaching to promote cognitive reserves. Innovative educational institutions will advertise a curriculum that is demonstrated to promote long-term cognitive health. We will begin to escape from the idea of economic scarcity, and start embracing the idea of lifetime cognitive scarcity - with educational programs designed to foster cognitive abundance.
This shift will require that the study of the brain become deeply embedded throughout all of our disciplines. We will talk about the brain when we think about teaching, learning and research. We will see our fitness centers and dining halls as tools to promote lifetime brain health. We will understand the mission of our institutions as providing our students the tools, habits, knowledge and fundamentals they will need to encourage and promote successful brain aging. Our rankings will be based on brain health related metrics, on the inputs that predict cognitive surplus. We will look back in disbelief at a time when our institutions took the brain for granted, and did not design our programs and environments explicitly to promote lifetime brain health.
15 of 15 people found this review helpful
I saw some of the positive reviews on this book and gave it a listen. I was not disappointed. Middle age extends up into the upper sixties and we are much more capable than previously thought. Many people believe that as we watch our bodies deteriorate though middle age our brains are undergoing a similar fate. Yes, we are declining but not at the same general rate as our bodies. In fact, in many areas we are actually improving in our thinking and capabilities way beyond the time of our typical beliefs. Thank you Ms. Strauch for this book.
11 of 11 people found this review helpful
Besides enjoying the book, and the authors occasional humorous anecdotes, I found it positive and uplifting. After, experiencing some of the negatives she mentions (such as why did I come into this room?)it was good to be reminded of the positive things the more mature brain has to offer.
In addition, I have laced up my sneakers again and have started guitar lessons at age 52.Enjoy.
11 of 11 people found this review helpful
A great summary of recent brain studies for those who are not neuroscience professors. Interesting findings that inspire hope for the middle aged brain, provided some real world tips on keeping your brain sharp, and even tossed in some parenting advice for teenagers who don't sleep. I now add blueberries to every meal I can put them in (my favorite: 1 cup blueberries + 1/2 cup syrup, simmer for 10 minutes, pour over waffles)
9 of 9 people found this review helpful
If you are over 40 then you must read this to understand what happens to your brain but in a very easy to understand friendly way. It will absolutely cheer you up and make aging not such a hopeless future. Everyone in 40's, 50's, 60's and more read this book and it will give you lots of hope for the future.
6 of 6 people found this review helpful
Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?
I would highly recommend this audiobook to a friend because it contains valuable information regarding middle age, that anyone should bear in mind in order to make the best out of
What did you like best about this story?
I enjoyed pretty much all the scientific references, as well as the anecdotes
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
This book is like many other books when talking about how the brain works and how its functioning could be enhanced (e.g., exercise, do new things, and solve problems). It is different in that looks at the advantages and disadvantages of the middle-aged brain. As we age, we may not be able to remember things or solve math problems as quickly as we used. Because of this, people think the middle-aged brain is declining. Surprisingly, the book reveals that the middle-aged brain can be at its peak. The brain has reorganized since its youth. It has built up patterns of connections and it acts and thinks differently. It is smarter, calmer, and happier. When a young worker is freaking out over a problem, an older worker is thinking, "Calm down. We've gotten through worse problems than this. First, let's figure out how bad the situation is." The middle-aged brain is using both sides, whereas the younger brain is using the untamed emotional side.
This book reassures us that as we age, our brain does not necessarily become progressively worse. We have more experience and knowledge, which have been applied repeatedly over time, strengthening connections in our brain. We make better judgments and decisions. It could be called wisdom, intuition, or gut feeling; these snap judgments come from our years of experience. We need to appreciate the advantages of a more mature brain rather than focus on the one negative aspect (forgetting things). It is also important that we exercise and keep our brain in top shape.
11 of 13 people found this review helpful