5 Common Myths about Age & Your Brain

July 23, 2009 at 5:46 pm Leave a comment

Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster.  Myth.  Yes, really! Sometimes I’m surprised by just how stubborn we can be about our mis-understandings of the human brain.

Below are five of the most common myths about age and the brain, along with how discoveries in neuroscience have put them in the same category as tales of Big Foot and Nessie!

Myth #1: A weak, feeble mind is inevitable with age – it’s just a matter of time.

If you believed the old stereotypes, you’d think dementia and senility were as common as gray hair, but there are plenty of people in their 80’s, 90’s (and up!) who are happy to disprove this first myth!

They live normal, engaged and independent lives, remain active in their communities, families, and interests, and yes, remember both what they had for breakfast and their great great grand children’s names.

Age-related mental issues do exist, of course, but they range from the potentially severe effects of stroke and Alzheimer’s, to milder and more common “oops, now where did I set my keys?” sorts of lapses  – lapses which can hardly be classified as dementia.  And as we learn more about how the brain ages, we’re learning more and more about how to reduce and prevent the age-related memory loss that gave rise to this myth, and it should fade into history where it belongs.

Myth #2: The adult brain doesn’t grow –  once you reach maturity, you’ve got all the brain cells you’ll ever have.

I know, I know… you learned this in school. I did, too. And at the time,  our teachers and most experts really believed it was true.

But modern neuroscience has discovered that  the adult brain does, indeed, continue to produce both new brain cells and new neural pathways that connect those brain cells – and to produce them throughout life.   This new  growth can be stimulated by both physical and mental exercise, with the best approach being a combination of the two.  So yes, your brain can still grow, whatever your age!

Myth #3: The brain is like a sponge; it can only soak up so many experiences and information in lifetime.

I’m not sure where this one came from, but there’s no known limit to how much information and experience our brains can process and store over our lifespan.

Even into advanced age, the brain continues to produce new neural pathways to allow for new memories and habits, and there’s no magical point at which a lifetime of learning  becomes “too much”.

In fact, the more you learn and  exercise your brain with new challenges and experiences, the better equipped it is to learn even more!.

Myth #4: Brain damage is forever.

This is another mistaken belief put to rest by modern neuroscience. (Yay for neuroscience!)

Not only can the brain repair minor damage from disease or industry, but it can create new neural pathways to route around areas that are too damaged to recover.   And in cases where a large area of tissue is badly damaged or removed? The brain can reorganize itself so that other areas of the brain can take over crucial functions.  Many people with sometimes severe brain injury recover quite well because of this sort of neuroplasticity.

This doesn’t mean brain injury should be taken lightly – it’s still very serious and even seemingly minor concussions can be difficult to recover from.  But the impairment does not have to be forever, thanks to the brain’s incredible ability to reorganize and rewire itself.

Myth #5: If my parents had dementia, so will I. (and vice versa)

Although genetics do  factor into the risks of developing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia,  it’s far from a sure thing.  The evidence is piling up that environmental factors and lifestyle choices have as much or more to do with it than our genetics.  People without a history of Alzheimer’s in their family still develop the disease, people who carry two genes for the disease may still not develop Alzheimer’s, and even more importantly? People with all of the physical signs of advanced Alzheimer’s in their brains don’t always show symptoms… they’re sometimes still sharp and functional.

So you may have inherited a higher risk of  Alzheimer’s or other problems, but there are many other factors in play – and a lot of them are in your control!

There you have it.

Five myths, and five debunkings!
What’s your favorite brain myth?

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About This Blog

A healthy mind and brain is key to a healthy, active life. Come along for the ride as we explore the basics of brain health, with topics including:
  • Physical Exercise
  • Cognitive Training
  • Stress Management
  • Social Interaction
  • Sleep
  • Nutrition
  • A Sense of Purpose & Connection
Authored by Tori Deaux
Sponsored by Dakim Brain Fitness



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