My Great Uncle Bill (by marriage) could be in one of these "lucid mind" studies, but he's too busy. He's busy researching, writing and having published his many articles on 1880s railroads, along with his volunteer work. He's closing in on 94, and other than his cane and a bit of a stoop, he doesn't seem much older than a decade ago. Likely, he's too busy to notice that he's considered one of the "very old" who are still spry and mentally sharp.
Aging is getting complicated. These days, to be old enough to be studied as "very old" you've got to be in the 90-plus age group. Scientists are looking at people who reach this age with bodies that still work reasonably well and brains that stay sharp and active. Active may be the operative word here, though even that is vague.
The New York Times recently published an article titled, "At the Bridge Table, Clues to a Lucid Old Age," as part of a series. Laguna Woods Village south of Los Angeles, Calif., is a retirement village at the center of, according to the article, the "world's largest decades-long study of health and mental acuity in the elderly...called the 90+ Study."
This particular article centers around a group of people in their 90s who are "out for blood" when it comes to their bridge game. These people are considered successful agers. The study is finding that keeping the mind active is vital, though there are other considerations. The researchers feel there is a social component, as well. Often, of course, what people do to keep their minds active, whether its playing cards, volunteering or playing golf, also has a social element.
A number of studies have been conducted that take into consideration the social life of an elder. Loneliness is known to cause a decline for many. So these card playing 90+ successful agers seem to be doing at least two things right - they are using their brains in a challenging manner, and they are socializing while they do it.
The article quotes a woman, 99-year-old Georgia Scott, as saying, "It's what keeps us going...It's where our closest friends are." According to the article, "Researchers are trying to tease apart cause from effect: Are they active because they are sharp or sharp because they are active?" The researchers are not convinced all mental activity is equal, when it comes to brain preservation, either. They are working on finding out the types of mental activity that are most effective for keeping the mind sharp.
Of course, genes enter into the picture, as well. According to the article, "...studies of the very old have provided hints that some genes may help people remain lucid even with brains that show all the biological ravages of Alzheimer's disease."
So, what do we learn from this article? Or, from Uncle Bill? Stay active, physically mentally and socially. The time-tested idea that we need to "get outside ourselves" to lead a quality life seems to hold true here. The successful agers are using their brains in a social environment.
The group being studied happens to be a bunch of card players. I doubt that there's anything sacred about cards, or the famous crossword puzzle strategy for that matter, for keeping the brain young. But finding something we enjoy that keeps our brains busy and our social muscles flexible seems to be something to put on our to-do list, along with physical exercise and a healthy diet. There's nothing in this prescription that is likely to cause harm to anyone.
Published On: June 03, 2009