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Better with Age: From Losing it to Using it

Article by Phyllis Strupp

Brain: Use it or lose it image

One spring morning in 2008, my husband Peter and I were out for our morning walk. Out of the blue, this healthy 53-year-old man declared, “I think I’m losing it.” Resisting the temptation to respond, “You finally noticed,” I asked why he thought this way.

He said that his mind was not as sharp as it used to be; he was taking longer to remember names and information. Furthermore, his paternal grandmother, who had lived to be 100, had struggled with Alzheimer’s for decades, so he was convinced that he had “the gene” and the process had already set in.

95% of Alzheimers cases are not linked to genes

I told him that some 95% of Alzheimer’s cases are not linked to the genes you are born with, as evidenced by the fact that his own father was doing quite well cognitively in his late 80s. (Six years later, his father died suddenly at 92 while on vacation in Germany, cognitively fit as a fiddle).

Peter was also unaware that over age 40, the brain deliberately slows down when retrieving information, searching more “file drawers” for every task it performs to facilitate integration and wisdom. What he saw as a sign of Alzheimer’s was actually an indicator of normal brain function at 53!

We discussed how the brain is built to get better with age if it is challenged to do new, personally meaningful activities. He had been in the same kind of work for over 30 years, so I wondered out loud if his brain was bored and needed a new adventure outside of work, like a hobby. He said, “Hmmmm.”

At first, nothing changed. A few months later, a friend was looking for someone to play the role of the king in a children’s play. Acting was an interest Peter had pursued in high school that he had been longing to return to. So he took the part, stopped talking about losing it and got busy using it.

Let your brain rise to the challenge of a workout

Acting tapped different brain assets than his left-brained day job as an editor utilized, and his brain rose to the challenge of this workout. Within a year, he became involved with our local community theater. At first, he had told them acting only, no singing or dancing. Over time, they got him to sing and move around as if he were dancing on stage in an ensemble.

Peter Strupp onstage as the detective in Wrong WindowPeter was amazed at how his brain could learn lines, building automatic “muscle memory” over time. In 2011, he performed in two plays at the same time—one a lead role—and his memory never failed him. But the greatest cognitive test of his abilities came in the autumn of 2014, when a favorite director asked him to play the role of the purser in the Cole Porter musical “Anything Goes.” He had to act, sing, and dance in many numbers to the finely-tuned standard of a choreographer who was a former Rockette!

He came back from several rehearsals totally demoralized. He even went to the director and choreographer and said take me out of these numbers if I’m not good enough, I’m just not getting it. They said he was fine, and they’d let him know if he wasn’t. He kept working at it, getting help from more adept members of the cast. To his own surprise, he and his brain were able to pull all this off. He looked great on stage! Friends and family were amazed and impressed—including me.

All of these acting adventures occurred while he was working full-time running his own business. He found the vitality and joy that comes from making the most of your brain assets in personally meaningful ways. Now he expects his brain to improve with age and not surprisingly, his brain is doing just that. He looks ahead and thinks about retirement not as an escape from work but as an exciting time of “rewirement.”

Peter’s story demonstrates an important truth: our brain is like the rest of our body, it can get out of shape and it can also get buffed up. But it’s hard to “buff-up” something you can’t see or understand. The Brain Portfolio Tool™, which we will learn about in Chapter IV, makes the brain easier to understand as assets that need to be managed for growth.


This excerpt is from the upcoming book “BETTER WITH AGE: The Ultimate Guide to Brain Training.” by Phyllis Strupp. To stay updated on availability, sign up for our free Brain Wealth monthly e-tip at http://www.brainwealth.org/.

BIO: Phyllis Strupp headshot imagePhyllis T. Strupp, MBA is an award-winning author and brain coach, speaking to audiences around the U.S. on how brains and lives can get better with age. She has been teaching at businesses, private clubs, and retirement communities since 2008. Her background includes a “Brain Research in Education” Certificate from the University of Washington in Seattle. Before establishing Brain Wealth, she had a 30-year business career, including an MBA in finance from Columbia University and 20 years as a financial representative with Northwestern Mutual. For more information: http://www.brainwealth.org/


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