Cognitive Decline (Another “Aging” Arrow?)

By now, you’ve probably caught a headline and possibly clicked on it: our cognitive capacities are wearing down younger than we ever thought.

Manhattan CocktailNot sure what I’m talking about? Check out this report of recently released study results from the UK, indicating that measurable cognitive decline starts at age 45 rather than 60, as previously thought. Cognitive capacities include memory and problem-solving, in case you, well, forgot.

Damn the Dermabrasion! Tank the Tummy Tuck!

We’re all going to need a cocktail of cognitive brain boosters instead!

I won’t say I’m not dismayed to read this news. If we assume the sample is sufficiently representative, and that the study was structured so as to give validity to the conclusions, is this something we don’t know – really?

Our Midlife Decline (The Cliff Notes)

Whatever the prior proof (or assumption) of age 60 as the beginning of our mental decline, given the social and physical stresses we live with (unemployment, divorce, little to no “down time,” rampant sleep deprivation), is this a surprise?

May we all turn now in our, well… Cliff Notes… to the section on our middle years. And yes, I said Cliff Notes. If my memory is disappearing this quickly, I’ve no time to waste on anything longer! And here’s the sorry story:

… as a result of the passage of time, middle adults undergo various physical changes… wrinkles develop, organs no longer function as efficiently as they once did, and lung and heart capacities decrease. Other changes include decreases in strength, coordination, reaction time, sensation (sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch), and fine motor skills…  Of course, people age at different rates… Most people, however, describe feeling that they have reached midlife by their mid-50s.

But don’t despair! After a mention of both female and male menopause, as well as societal pressures causing a diminishing of self-esteem (now I’m depressed), there’s more:

None of the biological declines of middle and late adulthood needs to be an obstacle to enjoying all aspects of life, including sex.

Phew! Reassuring! (Because I like sex.)

As to our cognitive capacities… where was I?

Oh yes. Recollection. Problem-solving. Flexibility, orientation, ability to learn – all things we care about, deeply. Don’t we? There’s more in the Cliff Notes on our middle-age intellectual capacities, which supports what I’m about to say.  

Aging Gracefully

Helen Mirren 2010I’m no Helen Mirren in the looks department, but then, I’m comfortable with who I am – now – a little woman with a big heart and big dreams, and stubbornly insisting I own my right to both – at every age.

I will even admit that I note my own struggle for a word here and there, whereas that was rarely the case 10 years ago. But I consider this normal. Just as I recognize the inevitable (and natural?) impacts of aging (gracefully I hope!) – on my skin, my hair, my knees that have logged thousands of miles of walking over my lifetime, and everything else that’s served well.

But tell me. Are we planning on adding out patient brain surgery to our list of anti-aging procedures in the future?  A little “Lobe Lipo” anyone?

Apologize for Aging? Nope!

I am delighted that we are researching brain function and specifically, our cognitive skills. I’m pleased for all of us, though slowing down is natural. I’m especially relieved in light of the growing numbers of seniors and their families impacted by Alzheimer’s. But as the slings and arrows of ageism and anti-aging campaigns rage – and those of us at midlife remain susceptible, may we also stand up and shout the many gifts of our growing years?

Must we all expect to magically look as good as Helen Mirren or any other public figure we imagine to have achieved some miracle of youthfulness, or some remarkable shift in notions of our prime? Among our growing positive press that may be somewhat exaggerated but is no less the reality for many of us –

  • We set aside some of our (sillier) preoccupations concerning what people think of us, and what we think of ourselves.
  • Sex can be more exciting than ever – loving, playful, and delicious – for both partners.
  • Perspective, compassion, patience and wisdom, yes – wisdom – become more than words but qualities we acquire, and competencies we exercise, smartly.
  • Experience is brought to bear in creative problem-solving, and knowing what truly is a problem, is invaluable.

I for one would not trade these qualities which more than compensate for the theoretical 3% decline in short-term memory which I may or may not have experienced in recent years. And if I have?

Handy Helpers, Healthy Foods

Long live the variety of electronic devices to assist me in locating exactly what I need, and when I need it! Perhaps it’s for the eternal-infernal-maternal multitasking involving juggling my kids’ considerable needs with my own, for remembering a friend’s birthday, or seeking – and finding – precisely the right word for a sentence I lovingly and luxuriously construct.

In the meantime?

Pass the blueberries, the raspberries, the tuna in oil, and the Vitamin B-12.

Let me mark my calendar for the days to trek to the Farmer’s Market for high quality and healthy (affordable) foods – non-steroidal, sans pesticides, a.k.a. organic – that surely assist in maintaining physical and mental health and well-being. Something, incidentally, that we all ought to have access to!

Now please pass the spring water for my complexion, and the phone number of a good stylist for the gray. Meanwhile, it’s time for a brisk walk in my sassy sneakers.

If only I could recall where I left them.

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Comments

  1. Ma chère Mademoiselle Loup,

    After such a mischievous (and flirtatious) look at aging, I can say that I am not longer looking at tomorrow with any degree of trepidation. In fact, it looks like tomorrow could very well turn out to be a great deal of fun. Yes, we have to contend with the ravages of time but it would seem that better eating habits, better health care and better living conditions have blessed us all with a bigger window of opportunity to “fit it all in”. That just means it is now up to us to ensure that “it” is worth “fitting in”. Life can be rainy, bleak and sometimes downright cruel but on the flipside, it can be the most lovely, funny and wondrous of experiences. I think you have more than adequately demonstrated that attitude is the key ingredient in any healthy (and fun) lifestyle.

    As we, your readership, click on the martini recipe, I would like to be the first to raise my glass and propose a toast… “Here’s looking at you, kid.”

    wb :-)

  2. Before I forget… there is evidence that mindfulness meditation slows the deterioration of white matter around the periphery of the brain, maintaining the cognitive abilities of someone in one’s thirties as one heads north of eighty. It doesn’t have to be hours in a cave in Tibet to get some benefit cooking here—but I suspect knowing this is true makes it all the more true when we do our yoga, or pray, or garden, or whatever way we manage to practice mindfulness (maybe sex can count?).

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Ah, Bruce. I say we count whatever allows us to more human, more relaxed, and less fearful. (And a sense of humor always helps!)

  3. Memories, names, the senses, sex, and some degree of physical strength — all tend to get affected by aging. Whatever. One of my favorite poems has always been http://www.eecs.harvard.edu/~keith/poems/Ulysses.html

  4. Love the little tongue-in-cheek insertions! :-D But, seriously, I agree our generation may be experiencing these things prematurely. We are much more sedentary than previous generations, contributing to poorer health and diet. We rush, rush, rush through our days without time to rest and relax. Sleep heals a multitude of things both physical and mental. But we relegate that to the back burner because we are “too busy.” Spiritual health? Forget it. No time. Back in the 60s, the onset of computers and everything electronic was predicted to result in us having too much extra time…HA! It’s time to take back our health and sanity.

  5. Aren’t we supposed to grow wiser with age? I’m waiting for it to kick in as the rest of my brain turns to mush.

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