Every so often I read something in the newspaper that makes me wonder if I’ve somehow wandered onto another planet. Of course, that’s easy to do during primary election season. Out here in California, the former CEO of eBay, Meg Whitman, has just gotten the Republican nomination for governor by promising to bring frugality to state government. To fund this campaign of frugality, she only spent $71 million of her own money.
Even that contradiction pales next to the news that the deputy science editor of the New York Times, a woman named Barbara Strauch, has just written a book called The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind.
Her book compiles the latest research in the area known as neuroplasticity (essentially, the ability of the brain to become more nimble with exercise and experience, the same way your body does). Apparently, while I and the rest of the Baby Boomers were growing older, our brains were actually increasing their cognitive ability. This runs completely counter to my friend Andrew’s theory. He believes that when we turn fifty, God flips a switch in our brain that turns off certain parts of our memory, like a power company initiating a brownout.
Yet, in an interview in the San Francisco Chronicle last week, Strauch cites “studies … proving that our brains reach peak performance between the ages of 40 and 68, the period commonly defined as middle age by researchers.” The article also says that the middle-age brain excels at the “teenage art of multitasking.”
Not my brain, unless they redefine multitasking to include the process of going out to get something from the car, and instead starting to pull weeds in the front yard, only to be interrupted by the mailman delivering bills, going inside to pay them, and then realizing that it was the checkbook you went to retrieve from the car in the first place, then no — we don’t excel at multitasking.
The article also talks about how a layer of fat called myelin increases as you get older, and actually protects your brain as you age. I frankly don’t want to live on a planet where the term fathead is a compliment.
Where the heck did Strauch find her research? When I was a kid, I memorized all the Presidents (of course, there were fewer of them then). When I was a teen-ager, I memorized all the Oscar winners. But now I’ve forgotten who won most recently … oh, yeah, Obama. I recently watched a James Bond movie, thinking that it was all so very familiar, and yet having no idea what was going to happen next. You might get that feeling from all James Bond movies, but the fact is, I had seen it before.
Do not read this book. If it becomes a success, Boomers would no longer be able to invoke that magical switch when we forget things. We would actually have to act like we had nimble brains. I just don’t see that happening.
Be sure to visit “Middle-Age Cranky” next week when I talk about Barbara Strauch’s new book, The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain.