SEATTLE - Old dogs really can learn new tricks, and how
to train grown-up brains is going to be part of the discussion at this
National Spelling Bee in June, in which spellers
from Washington and around the country will compete. Organizers of the
annual competition say spellers have often requested information about
how to stay mentally sharp, so a mental fitness workshop has been added
to the schedule.
New York Times health editor Barbara Strauch will lead the event. She's
written extensively about brain research, and points out that many
long-running beliefs about the aging brain have turned out to be wrong.
"For many years, people thought you lost 30 percent of your brain cells
as you age. Now they've looked inside real brains and find out that's
not happening. The trick, then, is to keep them in decent shape."
While it's true that people in their 40s through 60s often complain
about forgetting names, or where they put the car keys, Strauch says it
isn't a sign of brain deterioration. In fact, she wants middle-agers to
know, their ability to problem-solve and see bigger-issue solutions is
"We, as a group, are already entering middle age and old age better than
the generations before us. We do much better on cognitive tests than
people who were our age even 20 years ago."
She says physical health and control of chronic health conditions can
help keep older brains in better condition. Practice helps too,
according to Strauch, with researchers finding that those who view
themselves as "lifetime learners" often have a cognitive edge.
The mental fitness workshop is free. There is a $30 entry fee for the
spelling bee itself, and those who want to compete in the event June
18-19 can sign up online at aarp.org
The annual spelling bee is held at the Little America Hotel and Resort
in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Barbara Strauch has written a book, "The Secret
Life of the Grownup Brain," which will be released later this month.