May 20, 2008

The older brain, disparaged for forgetting, may be functioning at a higher level, with widening attention.

A new study shows.
“It may be that distractibility is not, in fact, a bad thing,” said Shelley H. Carson, a psychology researcher at Harvard whose work was cited in the book. “It may increase the amount of information available to the conscious mind.”
In my personal experience, it seems — if I'm remembering properly! — that the way the brain works changes over time.
For example, in studies where subjects are asked to read passages that are interrupted with unexpected words or phrases, adults 60 and older work much more slowly than college students. Although the students plow through the texts at a consistent speed regardless of what the out-of-place words mean, older people slow down even more when the words are related to the topic at hand. That indicates that they are not just stumbling over the extra information, but are taking it in and processing it.
Isn't the whole point of reading to get to something that makes you stop and think (or write)? I mean, that's the way I read. It really slows me down like mad.
When both groups were later asked questions for which the out-of-place words might be answers, the older adults responded much better than the students.

“For the young people, it’s as if the distraction never happened,” said an author of the review, Lynn Hasher, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto and a senior scientist at the Rotman Research Institute. “But for older adults, because they’ve retained all this extra data, they’re now suddenly the better problem solvers. They can transfer the information they’ve soaked up from one situation to another.”
I smell patronizing self-esteem boosting in "they’re now suddenly the better problem solvers." But it's good to know that there are different kinds of minds, different approaches to learning and thinking (and writing), and that we can respect these differences (and not fear them as they loom in the future).
In a 2003 study at Harvard, Dr. Carson and other researchers tested students’ ability to tune out irrelevant information when exposed to a barrage of stimuli. The more creative the students were thought to be, determined by a questionnaire on past achievements, the more trouble they had ignoring the unwanted data. A reduced ability to filter and set priorities, the scientists concluded, could contribute to original thinking.
Oh, the harsh winter killed 3/4 of one my red bud trees — which are nevertheless quite prettily blooming right now as I look out the window and think about my brain and poor Teddy Kennedy's brain — riddled, we now know, with cancer.

ADDED: Byrd weeps for Teddy.

29 comments:

George said...

My be functing, as well!

vbspurs said...

poor Teddy Kennedy's brain — riddled, we now know, cancer.

Oh my God. I hadn't read that yet. I'm so sorry for him. It's not a good prognosis at his age.

rhhardin said...

the way the brain works changes over time.

Old people aren't able to believe things as quickly as young people.

Ann Althouse said...

ugh. thanks george. fixed.

George said...

Anyee tyme, PrOfesssur!!

But seriously---here is a reputable website for adult children caring for a loved one who has dementia or Alzheimer's...Caring.com

Generally, though, it's use it or lose it, when it comes to memory.

Ann Althouse said...

I knew I was asking for it not proofreading that carefully.

There were 2 or 3 other errors too.

bearbee said...

Arlen Specter had a brain tumor and underwent radiation in 1993.

vbspurs said...

Bearbee, yes indeed.

As I said in my updated post, I wish him only the best. But for the short-term, no campaigning in person for Obama, probably no speech at the Convention, unless it's taped (more dramatic, perhaps). Remember he "campaigned" on his back after that plane crash. But it allows the Clintons the upper-hand, in the "senior" Democrat stakes, since few people concentrate on the Carters.

Cheers,
Victoria

reader_iam said...

bearbee: I'm having a tough time verifying it, but I believe Specter's brain tumor was a benign one (yeah, I know, seems weird to think of any tumor in the brain as "benign," but you know what I mean), while Kennedy's is not, though apparently he does not have the most pernicious form possible.

That said, I have a cousin who has been battling a malignant brain tumor for close to 10 years; when first diagnosed, her prognosis was dire and short. She's undergone more than one surgery, including one of those "awake" ones (ick), and they can't get it all out, and she's pretty much been on continuous chemo of some type or another, but so far, so good, and it hasn't grown recently. She may yet get to see her kids graduate from high school (they were quite young when she was diagnosed), which was her stated minimum goal.

So you never know.

I wish Senator Kennedy the best with his battle, and strength and peace for his family.

Donna B. said...

Don't you think Obama and his obsession with distractions is relevant to the article on older brains? I interpreted it to favor McCain in that his older brain would have the ability to take in more info from a given situation.

For Obama, and ability to ignore distractions may result in assimilating incomplete information. I can't think of anything he's said that disabuses me of that possibility.

As for Ted Kennedy, I wish him well. The first report I heard (on Fox News) said that it was "possibly" benign. I'm sorry to hear it wasn't. Benign doesn't mean it doesn't grow or cause problems, it just means it's not metastatic (sp?) and doesn't spread to other parts of the body. Or brain.

I disagree with him politically on almost everything, but I wish him good health.

Also, I was thoroughly disgusted by many of the "reactions" I saw snippets of on TV. It's as if they are "pre" eulogizing him.

He's not dead yet.

AllenS said...

In 1999 my girlfriend had a seizure and they found a grade 4 glioblastoma multiforme tumor on her brain. She was dead in 3 months. It was an absolute nightmare. I wish Kennedy the best.

Smilin' Jack said...

I knew I was asking for it not proofreading that carefully.

There were 2 or 3 other errors too.


There's still at least one:

3/4 of one my red bud trees

Maybe this is just a personal illustration of the post title?

bearbee said...

bearbee: I'm having a tough time verifying it, but I believe Specter's brain tumor was a benign one...

As I surfed for further info, I ran across the following - has anyone heard this?:

Lots of talk these days about Chris Matthews taking on Arlen Specter for Pennsylvania Senate.

bearbee said...

From the same article:

A doctor once gave me three to six weeks to live on a malignant brain tumor, and he was wrong

I'm not sure if he is saying the Doc was wrong about the malignancy or the six weeks, or both.

ricpic said...

Isn't this report a convoluted way of saying that older people - some of them, anyway - have learned patience?

When you're young you don't want to be bothered with the signposts that clutter the way to the GOAL! Later you meander from signpost to signpost. What's the rush to another letdown?

bearbee said...

reader_iam - you are correct. It was not malignant

Eli Blake said...

I've always admired Ted Kennedy's commitment to the issue of health care.

I hope he sees the day when health care is seen by everyone just as he sees it.

That is to say that access to basic health care at an affordable price is a right, not a privilege only to be afforded to those who can pay for it, like for example the Kennedys, or to those who have achieved some special station in society, like U.S. Senators.

I hope he lives to see the day when the breakthroughs in medical research that he has fought to fund, find a way to cure what are now incurable diseases.

I hope he lives to see the day when the ideals of universal coverage that he spent decades fighting for in the Senate, become reality.

But whether he does or does not, I hope that he is remembered not as a Senator, or as any of a bunch of other things he was (and some of them are not good), but first and foremost as someone who fought as hard as he could fight for the principles of justice and equality, both in the health care system and elsewhere (remember he was once a Chairman of the Judicial Committee) that he so strongly believed in.

Bissage said...

Regarding Senator Kennedy, some people seem to have already given up hope.

But wasn’t Walt Disney supposed to have had himself frozen until they could find a cure for whatever was killing him?

My guess is that didn’t work out so well . . . freezer burn and all that.

So let's try something else.

Maybe Senator Kennedy could have his thinking bits pickled in booze.

In the meantime, his brainless body could still perform its official duties aided by remote control technology developed in the sixties.

(Too soon?)

Ann Althouse said...

3/4 of one my red bud trees

that's not an error!

Each of my red bud trees has 4 trunks. On one of them, 3 have died. So 3/4 of one my red bud trees died.

Revenant said...

That is to say that access to basic health care at an affordable price is a right, not a privilege

Define "basic health care".

blake said...

Eli, I think your hopes and wishes are contradictory in a lot of ways.

But as long as we're hoping, I hope Teddy recovers and sees the error of his ways. :-)

Meade said...

That Redbud will probably rejuvenate, if pruned properly.

http://www.nature.org/wherewework/northamerica/states/ohio/files/chapter_5.pdf

rhhardin said...

Kennedy was once the loin of the Senate.

Now he mostly sleeps in port.

Elliott A said...

If basic health care is a right, so must taking care of oneself be a responsibility. The public as a whole has no moral responsibility to take care of individuals who abuse their bodies.

As for the Senator, though he is always 180 degrees from me on policy and outlook, I have to respect someone who dedicated his life to public service and trying to make a difference.

Revenant said...

Eli, I think your hopes and wishes are contradictory in a lot of ways.

You mean like wishing for health care prices to be forced down while innovation is encouraged? Yeah, that's like battling obesity by giving everyone a free supply of Ben and Jerry's.

I'm really curious what "basic health care" is supposed to mean, though. For example, Kennedy is going to need chemo or radiation therapy, and that's assuming he doesn't go for any of the experimental surgeries. Is that the sort of thing that would be covered under "basic health care"? If "yes", then what ISN'T "basic" -- and if "no", why do the poor have a right to antibiotics for a sinus infection, but not a right to chemo for their brain tumor?

blake said...

I assume that "basic" is as fluid as such terms as "poor" and "rich".

That way I can get "basic" health care because I'm "poor" while being "rich" enough to pay for it through taxes.

vbspurs said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael_H said...

"...the way the brain works changes over time."

Yes it does. My hard drive is full, and for every new thing I need to remember, I have to erase an old thing to make room.

The famous seem to garner more sympathy for their grave illnesses than do other people. My friend Jim C. was a great guy, a terrific husband and father, a police officer and the kind of person everyone liked and admired.

Jim was diagnosed with brain cancer while in his late 30s, went through three rounds of chemo and radiation, hung on for five years, and finally died. His life was every bit as deserving of recognition as Ted Kennedy's. those closest to Jim made sure he knew how much he meant.

Smilin' Jack said...

Ann Althouse said...
3/4 of one my red bud trees

that's not an error!

Each of my red bud trees has 4 trunks. On one of them, 3 have died. So 3/4 of one my red bud trees died.


???

I hope you meant to say "3/4 of one OF my red bud trees died." If that's not what you meant to say, maybe you should get a PET scan, or at least an EEG.