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How to Train the Aging Brain

Jack Mezirow, a professor emeritus at Columbia Teachers College, has proposed that adults learn best if presented with what he calls a "disorienting dilemma," or something that "helps you critically reflect on the assumptions you've acquired."
Brains in middle age, which, with increased life spans, now stretches from the 40s to late 60s get more easily distracted. Start boiling water for pasta, go answer the doorbell and — whoosh — all thoughts of boiling water disappear. Indeed, aging brains, even in the middle years, fall into what’s called the default mode, during which the mind wanders off and begin daydreaming.
Given all this, the question arises, can an old brain learn, and then remember what it learns? Put another way, is this a brain that should be in school?
 
Recently, researchers have found even more positive news. The brain, as it traverses middle age, gets better at recognizing the central idea, the big picture. If kept in good shape, the brain can continue to build pathways that help its owner recognize patterns and, as a consequence, see significance and even solutions much faster than a young person can.
 
The trick is finding ways to keep brain connections in good condition and to grow more of them.
 
Jack Mezirow, a professor emeritus at Columbia Teachers College, has proposed that adults learn best if presented with what he calls a “disorienting dilemma,” or something that “helps you critically reflect on the assumptions you’ve acquired.”
 
Dr. Mezirow developed this concept 30 years ago after he studied women who had gone back to school. The women took this bold step only after having many conversations that helped them “challenge their own ingrained perceptions of that time when women could not do what men could do.”
 
Such new discovery, Dr. Mezirow says, is the “essential thing in adult learning.”
 
“As adults we have all those brain pathways built up, and we need to look at our insights critically,” he says. “This is the best way for adults to learn. And if we do it, we can remain sharp.”
 
The article "How to Train the Aging Brain?" has been published on December 29th, 2009 in the New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/03/education/edlife/03adult-t.html

Published Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2010

How to Train the Aging Brain

Brains in middle age, which, with increased life spans, now stretches from the 40s to late 60s get more easily distracted. Start boiling water for pasta, go answer the doorbell and — whoosh — all thoughts of boiling water disappear. Indeed, aging brains, even in the middle years, fall into what’s called the default mode, during which the mind wanders off and begin daydreaming.
Given all this, the question arises, can an old brain learn, and then remember what it learns? Put another way, is this a brain that should be in school?
 
Recently, researchers have found even more positive news. The brain, as it traverses middle age, gets better at recognizing the central idea, the big picture. If kept in good shape, the brain can continue to build pathways that help its owner recognize patterns and, as a consequence, see significance and even solutions much faster than a young person can.
 
The trick is finding ways to keep brain connections in good condition and to grow more of them.
 
Jack Mezirow, a professor emeritus at Columbia Teachers College, has proposed that adults learn best if presented with what he calls a “disorienting dilemma,” or something that “helps you critically reflect on the assumptions you’ve acquired.”
 
Dr. Mezirow developed this concept 30 years ago after he studied women who had gone back to school. The women took this bold step only after having many conversations that helped them “challenge their own ingrained perceptions of that time when women could not do what men could do.”
 
Such new discovery, Dr. Mezirow says, is the “essential thing in adult learning.”
 
“As adults we have all those brain pathways built up, and we need to look at our insights critically,” he says. “This is the best way for adults to learn. And if we do it, we can remain sharp.”
 
The article "How to Train the Aging Brain?" has been published on December 29th, 2009 in the New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/03/education/edlife/03adult-t.html
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