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Blend it right!


Though mind doctors agree that old age has its downturns, slowing down often, yet, they say what is needed is a combination of the qualities of the young and the aged, reports Sujit Chakraborty
TSI | Issue Dated: December 28, 2008
Tags : mind doctors | Sujit Chakraborty | senile | mentally incapable | atrophy | Dr Rajshekhar Reddi | Max Devki | narrow-minded | age-related cognitive changes | fluid intelligence | past knowledge | previously acquired skills | Dr Chandan Gupta | Mumbai massacre | Psychology and Aging | White matter lesions | ameliorate | age-related cognitive decrements | disk-operating-platform |Dr Deepak Raheja | Hope Foundation | hypothalamus |
Blend it right! “Sathiya gaye!” Colloquial usages can be some of the most expressive, and strongly expressive of ideas and concepts. Just like the Hindi colloquial term for the senile. The term literally means “He’s sixty”, but the underlying implication is what is read into it: he’s reached sixty, which means he is senile. But do people become senile, or otherwise mentally incapable, at that age? TSI’s search for the answer remained somewhat inconclusive, though all the experts talked to said one thing in common: beyond a point, the brain suffers atrophy. Scientific research on people growing old beyond 62 years show they predominantly lose their patience, passion and potential in life.

According to Dr Rajshekhar Reddi, neurologist at Max Devki, “As people age, some decline in brain function is inevitable. People become more narrow-minded as they grow older. They are less willing to change. The weight of the brain declines on an average by about two to three per cent per decade after age 50, accelerating in later years.”

A medical study says that there are age-related cognitive changes. With advancing age, memory normally declines. Many other cognitive functions, such as “fluid intelligence”, are also reduced, including slowed responses and decreased “creativity”. As Dr Reddi describes, other cognitive abilities, such as vocabulary, past knowledge, previously acquired skills, wisdom often remains intact until advanced age. Blend it right! There is barely any difference between the functioning of a politician’s mind and a normal person on any other job, so far as the mental faculties go, or even the biology of the brain is concerned. Says Dr Chandan Gupta, a private practitioner: “There is brain atrophy, that happens and is inevitable and that hampers some faculties.”

Does it affect the brain from being focussed? Is a man aged 70-plus, woken up at midnight and asked to deal with a terror attack, able to come to focus and decision-making as promptly as a man at 50 would? Are the centres for association and linkages that allow a man to take a decision as sharp in the old age? Gupta says there is no clear cut answer. “Brain atrophy is a comprehensive process. It is not that one centre suffers atrophy sooner than the others. The process of waking up and focussing, for instance. Gupta says that it starts with the sleep centre getting deactivated and the waking centre taking over, and there can be relative differences between time taken to focus. But the psychiatrist makes a sharper point: “If someone is active even when he has aged, then it becomes a part of the mental processing and there will not be much difference in reaction time."

Of course, we did not tell him to explain why Shibu Soren, Jharkhand Chief Minister slept through the critical all party meeting on combating terror after the Mumbai massacre! The March edition of Psychology and Aging carries a report that says that the appearance of the brain changes with age, starting around 60, “White matter lesions” appear among the brain’s message carrying axons. This affects the cognitive faculties of the person, and the authors of the paper say: “Avoiding risk factors or preventing their accumulation may ameliorate age-related cognitive decrements.” Blend it right! Most of the work thinking people do uses the frontal lobe as the sort of ‘disk-operating-platform, doctors say, and old age does affect this area. “But I guess someone is a politician in power because he has some extra qualities for which he has been chosen,” Gupta says. Of course, he adds, that this is what it should be, but today many politicians are there because of vested interests.

But with age, the blood’s ability to draw nutrition and reach to vital body centres like the brain, which would in turn allow the mind to function at optimal levels, diminishes, so would not the mind be affected? “Theoretically, what you are saying is correct, but may not be happening always with all old people,” Gupta says.

Dr Deepak Raheja, Director, Hope Foundation, says that running a country like India is perhaps working on the most complex suduko problem. He agrees with Dr Gupta, saying that with age there is a certain slowing down of the brain, but it all depends on the individual. There is what is called disuse atrophy, when degeneration sets in due to not staying active, but if one is active, this may not happen. “Political work uses very precise, specific areas of the brain, like the hypothalamus etc, and very complex activity goes into allowing us our executive functioning, during which messages keep rushing through the brain cells. It would be fair to say that there is some slowing down, but unfair to say that there is serious slowing down beyond 60.”

In fact, Dr Raheja goes to the extent of saying that impulsiveness of youth is not the best way of running a country as huge and as complex as India. He, without so knowing, echoes our survey result: “We need a right balance between youth and experience to run this country. So a right blend of youthful zest, clarity, fast thinking and the advantage of experience, that is, age, should be the correct approach."
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017