Some of our faculties get better as we get older. I know this from observing my friend Frances, who can spot a bargain on a high street at an ever increasing distance with each passing year. But seriously, it’s true. Older people develop something called ‘crystallised intelligence’, which refers to skills that aren’t affected by age and may even improve with time. This crystallised intelligence is the accumulation of a person’s knowledge and abilities throughout a lifetime. Older people can particularly excel in general knowledge and their vocabulary – and in fact, psychologists say these generally increase until we enter our 80s.

Why stop there, I wonder? I know a 94 year old paediatric cardiologist who attracted accolades following a lecture he gave in Berlin several months ago. Just recently I noted the 99 year old author who has just begun writing another book. There are plenty of other sparking eighties and nineties (but I’m too busy to look them up right now).

There’s an old culture (is it American Indian?) that says Rulers don’t worry until the greybeards begin to mutter. In the Financial Times in 2007, just before the big crash, a pundit wrote about the state of the market, saying that what worried him was that apart from one or two sages, like Warren Buffet, there were no experienced old heads. It was being driven by young to middle aged males. And we know what happened then. So, heads up, wise and older ones! We can look forward to old age knowing that our crystallised intelligence is superior.

Superior crystallised memory!
Superior crystallised memory!

It’s the ‘fluid’ intelligence that we have to watch. These are functions such as working memory and speed of processing, which are vulnerable to ageing. But once again, according to Professor of Cognitive Neuropsychiatry, Andre Aleman, there are reasons to be optimistic. Studies suggest that the brain itself adapts to compensate for failing skills.

Some experiments with older subjects indicate that our neural networks pull together and draw on all the brain’s available resources to compensate for weakness in particular areas. I mentioned it in an earlier blog – scroll down…. The article, in today’s Daily Mail, gives some ‘Brain Boosters’ tips to help you remember.

Here’s the link to the website, but before you click on it, read the fascinating bit of information below:

Brain Boosting works!Brain Boosting’ is the title of a series of sessions we ran in one of our housing complexes, where people live independently in their own apartments. Around 10 people came once a week for the sessions, which were underpinned by cognitive behavioural principles to stimulate memory, to reinforce a sense of identity, to encourage social interaction and most importantly of all – to give sound, spiritual support. They were all in the early stages of dementia. The results were far more than we’d expected. Participants formed a friendship group, helping one another way beyond the sessions. They were more relaxed and confident, their memories improved and their wellbeing was so evident that other people living in the complex felt freer to help and become involved. The complex is now a truly dementia friendly community. We’re planning to make the session and training notes available next year, funds allowing.

Louise Morse

Louise Morse MA (CBT) is media and external relations manager for the Pilgrims’ Friend Society. She is a writer and speaker, and author of books on issues of old age, including dementia, published by Lion Monarch and SPCK. She is a cognitive behavioural therapist, and her Masters’ dissertation examined the effects of caring for a loved one with dementia on close relatives.

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