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Developing Wisdom
Developing Wisdom

Gifts of the Aging Mind

Pamela McDonald, LCSW-C

You had the car keys in your hands 15 minutes ago, but now you are looking high and low for them. Where are they? You recognize your neighbor at the local grocery store, but what is her name? The mind is blank. Sound familiar? Welcome to middle-age and the frustrating ways we begin to notice how our minds are failing us. But is it all downhill from here? Fortunately, recent breakthroughs in brain research give us reasons to be hopeful, and even celebratory, about our aging brain.

Within the last century, the average life span has expanded by about 30 years. Middle-age, the time between ages 40 to 68, has attracted the attention of neuroscientists seeking to better understand how our brains age and to, hopefully, find ways to prevent Alzheimer's and other types of dementia. We all want to remain vibrant and healthy in body, mind, and spirit as we age and continue to contribute to our families, careers, and communities in meaningful ways.

Those first signs of changes in memory can be alarming. We fear dementia and quietly succumb to thinking, "Am I next?"

There are significant differences between normal changes in the aging brain and the symptoms of dementia. Short-term memory loss, decreased focus, and slower processing speeds are normal developments in the aging brain. For most of us, with a little time or change of focus, we remember forgotten items. For the person with dementia, entire experiences are forgotten and cannot be recalled. If an item is forgotten, the person does not remember the item or even that they had forgotten it. As dementia worsens, the person will not recognize names, persons, and places they once knew. Over time, they will continue to become more disoriented and less able to function independently.

The good news for the normally-aging brain is that healthy brains continue to change and grow throughout their lifespan. Our middle-aged brains are more adaptive, more able to integrate a variety of life experiences, and have a greater capacity for empathy, forgiveness, and gratitude than when we were young. These are the qualities of a wise mind--as we age we have the increased capacity to cultivate and share our wisdom.

So, how can we keep our minds developing towards increased wisdom? Not surprisingly, many of the strategies recommended by health professionals and holistic practitioners to boost brain health are strategies that promote overall wellbeing. Here are some suggestions to incorporate small changes into your routine that will benefit your mind, body, and spirit.


  • Exercise! The number one recommendation for maintaining a healthy brain is regular aerobic exercise--at least five times a week. Start small and work up to a 30-45 minute workout. Try walking, running, biking, swimming, dancing, tennis, or any exercise program that will get the oxygen flowing!
  • Eat well. Eat a diet that includes lots of fresh fruits and vegetables--think antioxidants and complex carbohydrates. Other important nutrients linked to brain health include the omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins B6, B12, folate, and magnesium. Eat more fish, walnuts, fresh fruits and vegetables. Olive oil, turmeric, and green tea can also promote good brain health. Limit or avoid trans fats, saturated fat, wheat flour, and sugar.

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