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Do We Really Get Wiser As We Get Older? A Trip Inside the Aging Brain

Adriane Berg - October 06, 2014 03:58 PM

There are lots of myths about our mind as we age. When you forget a word or a name, you're having a 'Senior Moment.’ This, despite studies proving that pregnant women are more forgetful than seniors.

Then, of course, there is the issue of the 'filter.' We cringe as Uncle Irwin, age eighty-six, whistles at the waitress and pinches her bum. Or Grandma Bertie tells Cousin Jennifer she looks fat in that dress. We give them a pass because old people lose their filter or ability to sensor themselves. We forget that Irwin was always a womanizer, and the B in Grandma Bertie stood for bitc...well you know.

Perhaps the most enduring and endearing myth of all is that we become wiser as we age. With all the negative images of aging on the screen it's a treat to see that every philosopher from Yoda to Gandolf, every wise one from Merlin to Disney's Willow Tree, are old. The older the better for the myth.

But is it a myth? Could it be that we do get wiser with age.

The answer is 'yes' sort of....

When neuroscientists study the aging brain they notice that there are shifts in two types of intelligence. One called fluid intelligence- the speed at which we learn and the speed at which we react.

One of my clients, Cognifit offers a series of online brain games created by a neuroscientist Dr. Shlomo Breznitz, to increase elements of fluid intelligence including focus, concentration and speed.

In understanding how the brain can be trained, I also observed that there is an additional type of intelligence. This is termed 'crystallized' intelligence or perhaps wisdom. It is intelligence that is only gained with experience. Crystalized intelligence increases rather than decreases with age. It results from storing life experiences and the knowledge and memory that comes with it.

In tests, older people demonstrate a higher degree of Crystalized intelligence than younger people.

Concomitant with the theory that the old are wise is the way scientists measure Crystalized intelligence. They look to the quality of a decision rather than the speed with which it is made. In fact, older adults with years of experience generally take longer to make decisions in test situations, but come to better, might we say 'wiser ' conclusions.

Rejoice. Those of us who are older but wiser know that age has benefits for our brain. Certainly, in our culture, the aging brain is looked upon as a declining organ in aspects.

But, as Yoda might say, "Older I am. Wiser I am."

As caregivers this notion explains why our loved ones may be slow to decide; a frustration with which many of us live. It might be wise of us to allow their experience to work on their decision tree. Be less impatient and listen to the thoughts of aged, they just might be right.

Click here to read Adriane Berg’s blog, “ Traveling with an Older Adult? Tips to Make it Safe & Healthy.

Adriane G. Berg is CEO, Generation Bold, Business Development Reaching the Boomer Senior and CareGiver; and speaker on aging,;  Adriane is host of Super Aging Today Radio heard on

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