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Aging brain alert (08/29/2004)
By Janet Lewis Burns

"I was so much older then...I'm younger than that now." - Bob Dylan. We allow ourselves to be giddily uninhibited, and openly don't act our age.

We are labeled Baby Boomers, who "chill out" with time and discover renewed ways to understanding and fulfillment. Many make career changes midstream and cultivate new friendships.

If there is a price to pay for living to a ripe old age, it certainly doesn't translate into "going to seed!" Respected senior citizens are realizing their potential. They hold positions in society which require amiable people skills and a treasure trove of knowledge. What's old and what's new? Well, it's all in there.

An older "Modern Maturity" magazine contains an article I had saved (for that first day of the rest of my life). Written by Richard Restak, M.D., an opening statement says, "New research shows that aging brains are far more vigorous, far more resilient, and far more fertile than previously thought." Read on.

Dr. Restak tells anxious senior citizens, "As we age, we get better at mulling over situations, reflecting on them, and drawing upon our life experiences to arrive at decisions."

The ability to put things in context, and reach a wise conclusion, and to maintain mental agility, will be more difficult for someone with Alzheimer's or Parkinson's (as I have). I'd better think fast!

Living with early stages of Parkinson's, the physical, by hand or by foot destinations and accomplishments can be a struggle. Restak offers exciting breakthroughs in health issues. A process called "neurogenesis," if controlled and directed, might reverse the affects of degenerative brain diseases.

Yet another experiment involves inserting "stem cells," harvested from five-day-old fertilized eggs, into damaged portions of the brain to eradicate certain neurological afflictions. Hey, out there, we're waiting!

A recent Ellen Goodman column reports the results of a poll; "More than 70% of voters approve of using embryonic stem cells for research." Goodman writes, "One side's hope for a cure is another side's murder." Yet another political ploy?

A lifelong overload can make long-term memory less reliable after the age of 60, but imagination, and a bit of clever embellishing, keep the mind running along on an even keel. The wit and wisdom of a jovial grandparent is priceless.

Listen up! "Exercise stimulates the production of all kinds of wonderful molecules" in the brain. The mm article labels them "molecular fertilizer." We're full of it! Take your roller blades out of storage and boogie!

Here it is again. How often have we been buoyed by such hopeful words as, "over the next decade...substantial progress...human therapies." (To cure or not to cure? - seems to be a hung jury.)

Obeying all the rules for sterling health of an aging body can be a fulltime commitment. "Please pass the tofu and the soymilk." Society is afflicted with massive "gag orders"... "I'll have two corn dogs, a large fry, chocolate milkshake, and one organically-grown pickle." No Diet Coke?

In frustration over the high-calorie dressings, you suck it in and order a tossed salad, hold the fertilizer and the insecticides, a hormone-free milk, a small ice cream cone with no preservatives, and an environmentally-friendly napkin." (You'd think slurping down that oatmeal every morning would be heart-healthy enough.)

Much to our confusion, a memory strategy is way overdue! It's called "taking a mental note." The nightmare of forgetting where your vehicle is parked in the ramp, after a long day at the clinic, happens only once (the first time).

Associations work well. Say the seventh level number is orange. Hold up 7 fingers and make a mantra out of "orange Halloween pumpkin." Note which direction you'll have to shuffle, when leaving, to get back to your scooter, Harley, Edsel, flower-child van, cattle truck, or little deuce coupe.

My mind has a mind of its own. We shall age flamboyantly and shamelessly together. What I don't know can't hurt me. Be well. 


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