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The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind
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The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind

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Description:

A leading science writer examines how the brain's capacity reaches its peak in middle age

For many years, scientists thought that the human brain simply decayed over time and its dying cells led to memory slips, fuzzy logic, negative thinking, and even depression. But new research from neuroscien­tists and psychologists suggests that, in fact, the brain reorganizes, improves in important functions, and even helps us adopt a more optimistic outlook in middle age. Growth of white matter and brain connectors allow us to recognize patterns faster, make better judgments, and find unique solutions to problems. Scientists call these traits cognitive expertise and they reach their highest levels in middle age.

In her impeccably researched book, science writer Barbara Strauch explores the latest findings that demonstrate, through the use of technology such as brain scans, that the middle-aged brain is more flexible and more capable than previously thought. For the first time, long-term studies show that our view of middle age has been misleading and incomplete. By detailing exactly the normal, healthy brain functions over time, Strauch also explains how its optimal processes can be maintained. Part scientific survey, part how-to guide, The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain is a fascinating glimpse at our surprisingly talented middle-aged minds.

Product Details:
Author: Barbara Strauch
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Viking Adult
Publication Date: April 15, 2010
Language: English
ISBN: 0670020710
Product Length: 8.56 inches
Product Width: 5.66 inches
Product Height: 0.9 inches
Package Length: 8.6 inches
Package Width: 5.7 inches
Package Height: 0.8 inches
Package Weight: 0.25 pounds
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Average Customer Review:4.0 ( 62 customer reviews )
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116 of 119 found the following review helpful:

5Good news, that older and wiser thing turns out to be true  Apr 19, 2010
By Robin
Here's news that should be good for all of us humans. As the years go by, and we work at what we do, we grow older and wiser.

Barbara Strauch has written a fascinating and readable book about how our minds age, and how we get better as we get older, a lot older. If you are in your fifties and feel that you know far more about what you are doing now, than you did twenty or even ten years ago, science bears you out. According to The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain, we get smarter meaning that our judgment improves, our ability to see the big picture improves, our ability to read people improves. We become better managers, better parents, better leaders--even better air traffic controllers! We are more emotionally stable and often more creative.

What's interesting about this book is that its not a philosophical nor a political argument. It's a book based on scientific research. Strauch uses both people studies and research from neuroscientists, psychologists etc. to explain that our brains grow far more than we ever realized, into our 60s. While we lose one kind of brain cell, we increase others. And, studies of people in their 70s today indicate that people are smarter and more able to do things like solve puzzles than the people of the same age 15 years ago.

But this is not a book about how humanity is getting smarter, it's a book that looks into the human brain and how evolution has designed a middle-aged brain to be, in many ways, more able than the twenty-five year old version. Yes that twenty-five year old can keep from hitting the squirrel in the road more easily but life is more than reflexes. According to Strauch, humans are programmed to adjust to day to day annoyances, such as losing keys and forgetting names--just as we are programmed to grow wiser.

Strauch's clear explanations of the strengths of experienced people in their 50s (men and women continue to improve mentally through their 50s and into their 60s) combined with research debunking such myths as the "midlife crisis," and the "empty nest," make it clear that people who are older are often better equipped to handle the high stress of business today than their younger colleagues. It also means that those younger colleagues have a longer, and more productive future ahead than they may have expected.

The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain is good news for everyone, including those in their twenties and thirties, who after all will be fifty one day. Its good news for the 50 year old who loses her keys and wonders if she's declining, and for the 35 year old who wonders if she will ever feel truly "grown-up." The answer from Strauch is yes. People feel better as they get older. They feel more in control and they feel grown-up and handle the stress of life. Not only is their judgment better, they actually feel more cheerful, and focus more on the positive than they did while young. This is not really such a surprise. When you first saw Sully, the airline pilot who performed the "Miracle on the Hudson, " were you really surprised to see his white hair?

Lastly Strauch talks about the concept of wisdom, a word that has been considered "squishy," but which is gaining more currency with scientists who study the brain chemistry of the middle-aged as well as the behavioral studies of groups of people over long periods of time (some over forty years.)

Most people want to believe that as they live, they learn. This book holds the evidence that if you work at something for thirty years, you get to know more than a lot of facts, you learn to put those facts together. That's good news for all of us.

61 of 65 found the following review helpful:

5Marveling at the middle-aged brain  Apr 18, 2010
By Julie Neal
It's not true! Your brain doesn't get weaker with middle age. In fact, much of it gets stronger! This book, written by New York Times science editor Barbara Strauch, explains the scientific basis behind this phenomenon. The hardback describes the latest research in an easy-to-follow and interesting way.

It makes sense that the brain's capacity for complex thought reaches its peak in middle age. That's the time of life when people need to be at their best in terms of productivity and reasoning. It's the ultimate age to juggle responsibilities.

The last sections of the book explain how tip-top brain function can be maintained, covering ideas as varied as solving crossword puzzles to learning how to play the piano. Just like with the body, the brain benefits from exercise.

I recommend this book for anyone interested in how the brain works, and how to maximize sharp thinking through middle age and beyond.

Here's the chapter list:

Introduction: The Changing Landscape of Middle Age

Part One: The Powers That Be
1. Am I Losing My Mind?
Sometimes, but the gains beat the losses
2. The Best Brains of Our Lives.
A bit slower, but so much better
3. A Brighter Pace.
I'm so glad I'm not young anymore
4. Experience. Judgement. Wisdom.
Do we really know what we're talking about?
5. The Middle in Motion
The midlife crisis conspiracy

Part Two: The Inner Workings
6. What Changes with Time
Glitches the brain learns to deal with
7. Two Brains Are Better Than One
Especially inside one head
8. Extra Brainpower
A reservoir tap when needed

Part Three: Healthier Brains
9. Keep Moving and Keep Your Wits
Exercise builds brains
10. Food for Thought
And a few other substances, as well
11. The Brain Gym
Toning up your circuits

Epilogue: A New Place for Better, Longer Lives

52 of 55 found the following review helpful:

5This Is a Must Read for Anyone With Angst About Their Brain Functions  Apr 20, 2010
By C. E. Selby "Eric Selby"
I first heard about this book when the author, Barbara Strauch, was interviewed on NPR a few days ago. It might have been Diane Rehm. Or was it Terry Gross? Maybe All Things Considered, the one hosted by Neil--oops, Neil who? After all I've only been listening for years now.
Okay, my point is made. I think I no longer have a middle-aged brain/mind ('m almost 69). But when I read this book, I certainly found myself there and happily so, saying to myself that this could easily be about the early elderly-mind brain. Okay, so I admit that I failed on the math problem (page 12), but I would have failed that decades ago. I simply don't think that way. But verbally, hey, I'm fine. And when I teach my writing class at a local college, I can rattle off all types of information, putting those young minds to shame. But for the moment I still cannot remember the name of that host of All Things Considered. But that is now okay. And why? Because I read this wonderful, very readable book. As soon as I post this, it will come to me. But someone once wrote, "What's in a name?..." And, yes, I know who that someone is!
I probably would not be much concerned about the issue of forgetfulness except my domestic partner of many years is and undoubtedly with good reasons since his mother was the victim of Alzheimer's. He is certain he is well on the way himself. And now I am eager to hand this book over to him and ask if maybe he might be well within the norm, especially since we are both at a very high end of middle-age (that is called denial since we are at the low end of elderly-aged mind according to Ms. Strauch). There is plenty of research for those interested in "the facts." But it is not loaded on; instead it comes in bite-size portions along with the more personal stories that I easily related to. "Where did I put my glasses?" "What was it I needed to get to add to the salad here in the produce department?" "And what is Neil's last name? A? B? Oh, well, later."
I highly recommend this book, one I suspect I will be giving to others. I predict that groups of people will be reading this together and sharing their own insights, hopefully not focusing so much upon "senior moments" as upon why the middle-aged brain is actually a very functional organism, quite possibly in better shape than younger brains!

15 of 15 found the following review helpful:

5The big, brainy older set have much to be proud of  Apr 21, 2010
By Susanna Hutcheson "Copywriting for the Discriminating - - (...)"
I'm interested in more things as I age. I seem to get better in my work and relationships as well. I'm an avid learner. When I was young, learning was the last thing on my mind. With the exciting research in this book, I can now see why all that is true.

You won't find anything about memory loss or going nutty, no depressing things in this book. The author focuses on what middle-aged brains can do better than younger brains. And let me tell you --- there are many things! I know in my case, I thought I knew totally everything when I was young. Only now am I seeing I knew so very little!

The author tells the story in a very easy-to-understand and well written way. She uses examples of discovery and profiles of brain scientists.

The book ends with advice on how to keep your brain in good condition. Naturally, there are no guarantees in that area. Life has no guarantees at any age does it? Strauch includes 20 pages of scientific citations at the end to backup all she says.

Here's the real deal --- people make a huge mistake in dismissing middle-aged and older people in life and in business. They do so at their own peril. And I really love it when science backs up what I already know. Don't you love it when you're right??

I wish I would have had the brain I have now at the age of twenty. No telling where I'd be now! Get this book if you want to get the real inside scoop on how great you can be the older you get.

- Susanna K. Hutcheson

21 of 23 found the following review helpful:

2Slightly fuddy duddy  May 30, 2012
By P. Troutman
Quite frankly, rereading the other reviews after having read this book has left me with the impression that many a reader is so pleased with its conclusions that they are willing to overlook a lot. Yes, this is one of the more upbeat books you'll read, as it argues that up to the late sixties the human brain can compensate for weakening memories and slower computation skills with a variety of maturing gifts, like an increased ability to grasp the big picture and a growing indifference to life's down sides. Yes, that's all very well and good, but I do wish someone else had written this.

The writing style doesn't ask much from the reader. In fact, it doesn't really ask anything at all -- except a lot of patience. There is a definitely an art to writing books like this, that attempt to creatively synthesize enormous swaths of academic research. Malcolm Gladwell for one has it down: even when you detect weaknesses in his arguments, his prose and enthusiasm are so dazzling that you're willing to forgive a lot.

The author of this book doesn't have this art down. They feel more like a groupie: instead of making the gory details of brain research exciting and allowing the reader to get a grasp, in a general way, of the challenges and dilemmas involved in doing particular kinds of research, the author tends to describe what a scientist wore on the day they were interviewed -- as if this provided deep insight into their character -- and to summarize their conclusions (with a reference to brain scans, as if waving of a magic wand). As a result, you're left with a very disembodied sense of how the research was conducted or why the scientists research the conclusions they did. It's like reading the Cliff Notes to the Cliff Notes to a novel. By the end, the book feels like a pile of platitudes given the most optimistic spin possible.

Which leads to another issue: insofar as you can make out the underlying research, its conclusions don't justify quite the degree of exuberance the author gives it. Yeah, the gloom and doom view of brains as downhill from the twenties onward is inaccurate. But the good news can be overstated. One of the key points of the book is that there is a great deal of variability in brain decay during middle-age and we -- and by `we' we mean people with the socioeconomic background to read books on aging brains -- have some control over the rate of decay, with the more brainwork and the more exercise we do, the better off we'll be. But that hardly applies to everyone. Indeed, it's like a headline reading, "The Titanic hits iceberg! 700 survive!"

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