Is there anything more gratifying than a clearly written article that debunks some long-held and negative belief? Especially one related to the decline of this quirky vessel we inhabit during our worldly expedition?
One such piece is a recent New York Times Opinion piece by neuroscientist David J. Levitin. It has the provocative headline, “Everyone Knows Memory Fails As You Age. Everyone is Wrong.” (Jan. 10, 2020)
Short-term memory, says Levitin, is easily thrown off by distractions. We all know this. Who has not wandered determinedly into the living room in search of a book, the dog, a misplaced coffee cup, only to veer off to the kitchen in search of….well, something.
It’s typical to call these “senior moments,” but the author cites both recent research and his own many years teaching undergrads to assert that this is just not so.
A winning passage in his Opinion piece observes that some aspects of memory actually improve with age:
…our ability to extract patterns, regularities and to make accurate predictions improves over time because we’ve had more experience. (This is why computers need to be shown tens of thousands of pictures of traffic lights or cats in order to be able to recognize them).
So, he continues, if you’re going to get an X-ray, you’ll do better to have it read by a 70-year-old radiologist, not a 30-year-old.
Levitin’s book, Successful Aging: A Neuroscientist Explores the Power and Potential of Our Lives, (Dutton/Penguin Random House, 2020) has more of the same cogent writing.