Our human brains are incapable of learning after the age of 50.
This was common knowledge until recently when neuroscientists could actually see inside people's skulls and study their brains up close.
Growing up, we all heard the forecast: no learning after 50, no use learning dancing or a new language. Older brains, the wisdom went, just can't absorb new information. They are hardened, stiff, like our joints and muscles.
Apparently this belief began, or gained credence, with Sigmund Freud. In a 1986 article in the L. A. Times, Dr. Calvin Colarusso, of UC San Diego Medical School, stated: "Within our profession, [psychiatry] the negativism about treating older people stems directly from (Sigmund) Freud's pessimism that anyone over 40 was essentially too old to benefit [from therapy]."
Freud's prognosis of older brains referred to whether people over 50 could be treated through psychology. He assumed "that the mental processes of older people are too rigid and unable to change, that they have too many experiences to talk about during therapy (Okay, he may be right about this!), and that treatment for the elderly would not be cost-effective (meaning we elders would die before anything good could occure)."
In 1986, when the above mentioned article was written, I was 32 years old, facing, apparently, only a couple of decades of brain life. We were beginning a family, chasing careers, buying a house and cars. Would it all end when I turned 50?
Personally, I didn't agree with this theory. I ain't a psychologist or scientist, but to me, just looking at our giant skulls on top of our bodies, our brains surely had more to do than wither when we turned 50. Really? All that "brain power" and it just stops? Hardens? Atrophy's? It just didn't seem logical.
Age 50 was considered the best for retirement because of this notion that older people would not be able to learn anything new. Social Security and Medicare were set up to begin when people turned 65, which surely would be very few people.
I can feel the shuddering of all the researchers regarding brain health. We've since learned that IF we continue to learn new things, our brains will add myelin around our nerves, thus connecting all the stuff we know to the new stuff we know. (For a good layman's book about this, check out The Talent Code: Greatness isn't Born, It's Grown. Here's How, by Daniel Coyle.)
Rather than deteriorating as predicted, our brains crave social interactions, new experiences, and even – no kidding here – therapy to help us cope with life.
Since turning 50, so many wonderful and difficult events have occurred in my life. Join me next Monday to learn what those were. In the meantime, whatever your age, smile at your brain today.