Hope for the adult brain

By Scott Graves, Pilot staff writer October 22, 2010 11:48 pm

 

For of those you looking for some serious journalism in this column ... sorry. I have something more important to talk about: adult brains.

More to the point, the fallacy that adult brains don’t change. You know the old saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks?”

It turns out you can. 

The latest research in neurological science is revealing that, while adult brains do not develop at the lightening quick pace of young children, the old noggins are not static.

Experts discovered this by using  advanced  brain-imaging techniques such as looking at subjects’ heads with those new-fangled 3-D glasses, or holding an Etcha-Sketch against their skulls.

In fact, the latest evidence shows that adults are forming new neurons (those are the tiny connections in the brain).

That’s right! Grown-up brains can learn entirely new skills such as a foreign language, a new sport or how to pick their clothes off the bathroom floor.

The catch is, it could take a bit more effort than when you were a child. Of course, slowing down the learning process is the fact that most of us have to work for a living. Think of all the new skills you could learn if you didn’t have to go to work. You would have time to finally learn how to use all those little rubber buttons on the remote, clean your toenails the correct way, or watch the “How It’s Made” marathon on TV.

If I didn’t have to work, I’d be learning new skills, like a two-year-old on espresso. I’d learn a new language, master  several instruments, and conduct neurological studies on two-year-olds who drink espresso.

On a related issue, a neuroscience researcher recently explained in a press release why people 30 years and older can’t win a war-of-wits with a 20-year-old.

Think about it. Have you ever noticed how it’s nearly impossible to win an argument with a 20-year-old? Or have the last word?

Most 20-year-olds’ comebacks are instant — their recall of facts and events is near photographic, and their ability to spot flawed logic being used by their elders can be impressive — and most annoying.

 The reason, the neuroscience researcher said, is at that age, a person’s brain is “at maxium firepower,” mostly because of its size and number of neurons.

That kind of weaponry in the hands of someone with limited life experience can make life miserable for the rest of us.

There’s some good news, however. The researcher said that from the mid-20s on, our brains slowly diminish in size and function as neurons begin to die off or become inactive.

“As adults, we lose about 30,000 neurons every 24 hours. By the age of 50, we have lost about 50 percent of the brain’s capacity,” the researcher said.

Hmmm, now I’m beginning to question his credentials. 

Still, I can’t help but wonder: Can these many millions of lost neurons be restored?  Can an individual in middle age reclaim the razor sharp memory and intellect he/she had as a 20-year-old?

The researcher says yes, but I’m not going to reveal how it’s done. Otherwise, we’d just end up with a bunch of 50-year-old know-it-alls. 

That, and a bunch of old dogs on espresso trying to learn new tricks.