Posted by: wordsmithsuk | January 16, 2010

Is it inevitable to become more forgetful and grumpy as we get older?

Many people believe that their mental capacity, particularly their ability to remember, will inevitably decline as they become older. But plenty of researchers and writers argue that our brains can perform better with age rather than worse. In his book The Age Heresy, Tony Buzan points out  that  many people do their best work later, rather than earlier, in their lives. What happens, according to Buzan, is that the brain’s ability to form new connections between its 100 billion+ neurons remains undiminished over time.

ToscaniniFor example, the Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini, who died in 1957, regularly conducted without a score. When he was in his eighties it was estimated that he had memorised 250 symphonic works, 100 operas, and numerous other pieces.  Michelangelo is another  octogenarian who produced some of his best work towards the end of his career.  In the last decade of his life, he was working simultaneously on a number of projects, most notably three statues of the pieta, a series of religious drawings, as well as designs for the dome of St. Peter’s and several other important buildings.

More recently, Baroness PD James, the 89-year-old grande dame of British crime fiction, astonished and delighted listeners when she interviewed BBC head Mark Thompson. She  deftly demolished Thompson’s defence of his managers’ exorbitant salaries, at least 37 of whom earn more than the prime minister. And at 91, when most people’s lives have slowed down considerably, Diana Athill  is suddenly starting to win enormous success as a writer. Her latest memoir, Somewhere Towards the End, was shortlisted in the biography category for the 2010 Costa book awards.

The evidence does seem to prove that the best brains in the world belong to the people who continue to use and improve their mental ability throughout their lives. These people never stop working hard and creatively. They continue to acquire new knowledge and skills. And their curiosity about others and the world outside their own four walls flourishes as the years pass. Those sharp minds also refuse to go along with false and negative beliefs about ageing.

Read Buzan’s book for lots of tips on how we can achieve more as we get older.

Read an article by Sri Chinmoy on how to keep or develop a healthy mental attitude as you get older.

Do you know anyone who has remained mentally sharp, creative and active into old age? How did they do it? Post your comments here.



  1. I ran across your comment about not knowing what a tootsie pop was in linked-in… and wondered who this poor person was that had been deprived the pleasure of a tootsie pop in childhood. So I looked up your site and began reading through it….
    So in honor of the tootsie Pop wanted to add a few more thoughts about it…I distinctly remembered from my childhood that a tootsie-pop cost two cents and was a great value… and was where I believe the phrase “giving your two cents “comes from, because the 2 cents was in large print on the wrapper. This childhood experience inadvertently taught me the value of giving my two cents and also ingrained in me the notion of 2 cents of worth.…
    So in lieu of a tootsie pop I just wanted to put in my 2 cents for what I consider a great value to me….. This blog post…. I enjoyed it as it gave me hope that one day I might get lucky and get my thoughts together … have a great day….
    Kind Regards
    Dave Outlaw

    • Thanks Dave for your comments – and your concern! I was born (and indeed live) in the UK – so that’s why I’ve been deprived of Tootsie Pops. They sound great though and yes good value. Here we put in our tuppence worth – same idea I suppose except maybe more expensive.

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