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Mental Wellness

Written by Marianne Heron with Paul Britton

The secret fear about aging is that you are going to lose your mind. In the vast majority of cases, this is needless worry. What tends to happen is that you find your memory is not quite as good as it once was and that you read this as a sign that you are losing your marbles. This is not so. Your retrieval of stored memory – like a computer with overload – becomes less reliable, the information is in there and when people say, ‘It will come to me in a minute’, they are right.

There are things you can do to keep mentally fit. People like Frank Lloyd Wright who designed the Guggenheim Museum at 89 and Alexander McCall Smith who began writing novels in his 60s, are examples of using it and not losing it. There is mounting evidence of the link between mental stimulation and brain fitness. While fluid intelligence (reasoning) declines, crystalline intelligence (knowledge) does not.

It was thought that mental capacity was established in childhood and decreased with age, but it is now known that brain retains its plasticity and can be enriched beyond middle age. The brain has around 100 billion brain cells or neurons which can form a network of connections in an infinite number of ways. The networks processing new information or repeating it, like practising a piece of music – end up the strongest thanks to a process known as Hebbian learning (where brain cells that fire together wire together).

mental wellness

Keep your brain connections blooming by doing new challenging things, stimulating work, learning things like a new language, get involved and interact, play games involving logic: crosswords, Bridge, play music. Don’t make a shopping list, use your memory instead. Memorise things, the plots in books, the main points of the news.

By keeping mentally fit, people have faster reaction times thanks to greater stimulation of secretions which encourage the growth of brain cells. People who are inactive and uninvolved are most at risk of age associated mental decline and dementias.

This excerpt was taken from Rewire Don’t Retire, sponsored by Irish Life and Active Retirement Ireland. You can download the full guide HERE.