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Your Aging Brain

24 October 2012

From Lumosity:

As we get older, our brains’ abilities change. Though scientists can predict many of these age-related trends, Lumosity scientists also wanted to know how practice and hard work could change individual performance despite predicted age generalizations.

The question: can an older person do as well as a younger one?

. . . .

16-year-olds performed best at Memory Match and Memory Matrix. For every year older than 16, the average user declined by 0.4% and 0.3%, respectively: the oldest players had average scores about 20% lower than peak players. Decline happens quickly because such games rely on fluid intelligence, which contributes to learning, problem solving, and the ability to adapt to novel challenges.

But Word Bubbles, our game of verbal fluency and vocabulary, showed a very different trend. Word Bubbles performance peaked in the late 20s and stayed high through the 40s, falling gradually from then on. Why? Word Bubbles relies more on crystallized intelligence, a type of intelligence that draws on accumulated knowledge and skills from your life experience—and which declines much more slowly.

Our findings support general aging research showing that fluid and crystallized intelligence decline at different rates.

. . . .

We found that users of all ages improved at all games. Sound impressive? Then consider this:

After 25 games of Memory Match, older users were just about as good as younger users at baseline performance. In Memory Match, for example, the difference between a 74 year old who trained and a 16 year old who didn’t was reduced to only 7%.

. . . .

The results that we presented at the 2012 Cognitive Neuroscience Society conference confirmed widely accepted beliefs about aging, but they also showed that age differences can be largely eliminated through training.

Link to the rest at Lumosity

So here are some questions

  • Is there an optimal age or age-range for a writer? Or most writers?
  • Does the optimal age depend upon the type of work being written, e.g. fiction vs. non-fiction?
  • Can a writer over the optimal age do anything to maintain/enhance writing skill?


Writing Advice

25 Comments to “Your Aging Brain”

  1. 41 is the optimal age for a writer. Though next year I strongly suspect I will revise that age to 42.

  2. And Ursala K LeGuin might argue that you are off by a factor of two 🙂

  3. Every writer I admire is automatically grandfathered as a statistical outlier in my very sophisticated mathematical model. 😉

  4. I would say that would vary by author.

    My editing skills peaked at age 18. My writing by age 19. By 28, I couldn’t do either anymore. By 38, I average a very low score, and yet, keep trying.

  5. Is there an optimal age or age-range for a writer? Or most writers? — Probably not.

    Does the optimal age depend upon the type of work being written, e.g. fiction vs. non-fiction? — Probably not.

    Can a writer over the optimal age do anything to maintain/enhance writing skill? — Keep writing – and reading.

    I’m 75. If I’ve passed an optimal age, I’m not aware of it yet.

  6. Optimal age? No (though I suspect one does need a certain amount of life experience — unless one really is a genius).

    Optimal timespan? Probably. It takes a while to gain the craft-skills to write effectively, not to mention finding and learning to trust your ‘voice’.

    I’d guess the optimal timespan is somewhere around 10 years and upwards. Most of the skills used by writers are crystallised memory. Writing generally doesn’t involve whack-a-mole-that-follows-a-pattern skills.

  7. Could it be that older folks just don’t care about stupid games like this as much as younger folks? So they’re not as motivated to figure it out right away? Try something older folks care about, like the news or bank accounts or health issues, and I bet they’d whip the youngins’ arses. 🙂

  8. I joined Lumosity and almost immediately grew bored with the site. My year just expired and I was there only three, maybe four times. Yesterday I saw a report on TV news that said mental acrobatics are fine, but not as good as plain ol’ exercise for keeping a brain behaving younger than its birthday would indicate. I like exercise that lets me concentrate on other things as I do it.

    • My association with Lumosity was similar to yours, Patricia. I’m still on their email list, however.

      • Me, too. I thought they already emailed me, saying my subscription had expired, but it must have just been a warning because a few minutes ago I got an email from them that started out “Yikes!” — then they told me the subscription ends tomorrow. Yikes, indeed. Don’t they pay any attention to how often one logs in? They should be sending me an anniversary card soon for the one-year anniversary of my last log-on.

  9. Give the sixteen-year-old a mortgage, wife, kids, retirement, and full-time job responsibilities to worry over while he’s doing his memorization, and then let’s see how well he does.
    Apples and oranges, apples and oranges,

    • Lol. Too true.

      • Exactly. I handle things now that my 20-something brain would have had hysterics over.

        I took the CPA exam in my mid-40’s. Problems that would have been very difficult for my 20-something self weren’t hard at all, because I’ve handled way harder things since then (college exams have problems that at most last 30 minutes. I’ve handled problems that took days or even weeks in my work life.) And I had a structure in my head to place all those facts into so they made sense.

        I’ve also seen middle-aged adults learn things like drawing or crafts much more quickly than younger ones. Older people tend to be slower on very quick new simple tasks, like say, locating the new app on a computer screen, but when it comes to integrating this new task and using it for much bigger problems, the older person will do better (all else equal). (And a lot of the slowness learning is often that the older person has habits that they have to override when learning the new task.)

        We grow and learn based on taking on harder and harder problems. Base intelligence gives a head start, but after that, it’s work and learning and exposure. Thus, base intelligence is pretty meaningless in the long run without experience.

        • Laurie, I completely agree.

          Intelligence builds on experience and strengthens as we use it to learn.

          I read a different study that said, other than memory, all forms of intelligence increase as we age. That’s my experience. I could dance circles around my 20 year old self. There are things I handle without a thought that would have completely overwhelmed me back then.

  10. Donald, you hit it on the head! Besides, I don’t think “memory” of this sort, fluid or crystallized, has anything to do with a writing talent…Experience is needed, empathy with others, the ability to observe in an understanding way, I guess it’s all back to that same thing: empathy! That’s what a writer needs more than memory…unless he’s writing his autobiography, of course, LOL!

  11. I prefer the NY Times crossword for brain calisthenics.

    • I do crosswords online, but I cheat. I can try every letter in the alphabet till I get the right one. What this is teaching my aging brain is to be tricky when I can’t be smart.

  12. My mom was in the habit of doing a crossword puzzle every morning. She passed on when she was 80, and although her physical health deteriorated rapidly during her later years, her mind was as sharp as could be. I guess you don’t lose it if you use it.

  13. I could recognize patterns very quickly when I was younger but only up to a certain complexity. Now, I’m not nearly as fast but the complexity of what I can recognize and solve is pretty darn advanced. I think a lot of that is practice and life experience.

    When my dad is bored, he’ll send me a crossword and see who can finish first. He still always beats me but my a much smaller margin.

    And I’d say early thirties is a pretty darn good age to be a writer 🙂

  14. I prefer going through life on the bumble bee theory. Aerodynamically, the little critters shouldn’t be able to fly. They don’t know this so just go ahead and do it.

    If I don’t know that my fossilized brain cells are no longer capable of fluid flowing formulators of words, then I should be able to write well past the age of 105.

  15. I read once that the most accomplished people were over fifty. That was a surprise, but it is true. Therefore, if you’re under fifty, take heart it is going to get better, just like wine.

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