Hope For My Brain Yet

>> Monday, May 3, 2010

I've been worried. See, after multiple pregnancies, years with children including a brilliant teenager and more than 20 years on the job working (indirectly) for the government, I've been wondering if my brain was turning to mush.

Good news, it's apparently not (or I'm the exception).

According to this talking about The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain by Barbara Strauch, the middle-aged mind is still growing and getting smarter, better with logic and judgment thanks to many hard-learned lessons (unless we're talking Tea Party Members), but a wee bit slower with the recall and memory retention.

I have a theory, no more a hypothesis, that we don't actually have a worse memory so much as it gets more crowded with time. When we're young, we cross-post and associatively link all kinds of things because, hey, there's only so much data - need to access it. As we get older and the sheer "volume" of data increases, we shove it into any free spot, perhaps not being quite so assiduous about making sure we have links to get it back if we need it. It's like having a huge filing system but only so much time to get everything put away in a logical manner and, even if we could, there's so much of it it takes a while to figure out where we put it when we need it. I suspect many of our middle-aged brains (for those of us in middle age) could seriously use a system defrag.

Which means it's not so much our memories failing as our ability to recall the data we've squirreled away.

The cool thing, as I continue to speculate, is that lack of recall doesn't mean that it affects our judgment. At least according to Goleman, our emotional response to a stimulus takes place somewhere else (related to the hippocampus), which means that we can use what we learned as we go through life without necessarily remembering why we think something's a good (or bad) idea.

Teenagers (and apparently this Ms. Strauch has a book about the teenage mind as well) are quick to learn and gather data like sponges (I presume good and bad), but judgment--not so much. It takes a few hard knocks, I suspect to really appreciate why something is a bad idea, even if you've heard it described that way by your readily ignored parents. No emotional impact, you know.

Which is why I see a company that charges >$300 up front so that teenagers can work for them at minimum wage over the summer as a scam instead of an opportunity.

Now, if I could just remember why...


  • Jeff King

    Great post... the older I get the more I forget to remember. And the more I need to learn, and the less I forget to teach.

    I remember the right things at the wrong time... it is a bit annoying really. But you get use to stalling in a conversation until your brain kicks in with the correct info...


  • The Mother

    No question, the sum total of all the knowledge we've been exposed to is in there---somewhere.

    I had this go-round with my 16 yo this evening. He may think he knows everything, but I have 33 years of experience on him. I win. PERIOD.

  • Roy

    Yup! Just too much info crammed in there. I can remember lots of things from high school (and there are people I graduated with who keep on my good side lest I air those memories), but I'll be damned if I can remember where I put the blue folder that has copies of my resumé and my birth certificate in it from a couple of months ago. It's not short-term memory loss, it's just a lousy filing system!

  • Stephanie Barr

    That's my story and I'm sticking with it.

  • Greatest Info

    great story
    is that your true story??

  • flit

    Sign me up for a defrag! I surely need one.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with your theory. I think the brain is like a data bank. Eventually it gets rather cluttered and memories are hard to find.

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