Where is your mind? – Part 1.

When you have done something without thinking people ask, “Where was your mind?” meaning, what were you thinking. However, if someone asks you “Where is your mind?” what would you say?

Naturally your answer would be something like, “In my head” or “In my brain.” Both of these answers are vaguely correct but it does not pinpoint where in your mind is in your brain. I have read five or six books on the brain and can assure you there is no little box sitting in the middle of your brain of which you could say, “That contains my mind!”

It is common to have this image of one particular area which has stored up all our life memories, operates our mental faculties and could possibly be labeled the mind or the control centre. It seems that is not the case.

There have been occasions when surgeons have performed open-head brain surgery while the patient is awake. These primarily have been for diagnosis procedures for patients with serious epileptic problems. The interesting aspect has been that when different parts of the brain have been probed it has caused different memories to be recalled with some parts of the same story coming from different parts of the brain. It is thought that some of our recalled memories pick up various bits from different stories and put them together so that we even believe the resulting tale to be true.

So thinking about where the mind is, on those odd occasions when you say “My mind is all over the place” you might very well be stating the truth!

The brain is a complex organ which maintains our bodies, our actions, our thoughts, our memories and our very life. Just like any other organ it can be attacked and damaged by injury or disease, and regrettably it is. These can be debilitating or fatal.

Over the last few years there has been much discussion on keeping the brain active and well. Programs are available to do just that. There is however, one aspect about the brain which is generally inferred and surmised and I feel unjustly so. But maybe I should leave that until tomorrow!


Where is your mind? – Part 2.

Yesterday we left the subject hanging with my suggestion that there was one aspect which was inferred and surmised about the brain which I felt was unjust. It is this. That the brain automatically degenerates over time so that “the old” or “the elderly” are unfairly expected to show some evidence of mental incompetence.

There is no question that some folks have succumbed to what was commonly termed senility which now seems to come under the umbrella of dementia. But that does not justify all of us who are passed retirement age being painted with the brush of non-compos mentis! Far from it. In fact I read recently that only four percent of seniors suffer from serious dementia while another ten percent do experience a mild form of it.

If we are talking about memory loss then that applies to any age group. We all have memories of faceless names and nameless faces regardless of our age. If you move location it is not long before people that you have known begin to fade into one of those categories.

I think it is a question of attitude. From a survey taken, people under the age of 45 readily aligned senility with old age. In other words older people are expected to slow down mentally, to be confused, become dependent and possibly lose touch with reality. Sadly that is what society teaches or at least implies by its expectations. If we hold to that view then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We expect it therefore it is. I honestly believe it does not have to be that way.

There are many people who have made great achievements in later life, like Verdi composing opera in his seventies or as I read recently about an author who started writing at age 75 and published five books before he died at 90. For what it is worth my own two books were written since I retired. Helen Taussig, an American biologist carried on her work even after moving to a Retirement Home. Every day she would go to her place of work and continue her research right up to the day she died in a car accident, three days before her 88th birthday!

So folks, please don’t send us off to the sludge pile before our time! We may have passed our “sell by” date but we still have some “shelf life” left!

My final word would be to my peers of senior age. You have heard the phrase “Use it or lose it” and that may well apply to the brain. Just as physical exercise is good so brain exercise is also good. Make a determined effort each day to get the brain moving. Read, paint, draw, do puzzles, do calculations, play games, talk and have meaningful discussions, not just “Nice weather we’re having!” Take lessons. Go back to school. It is now thought that we can create new brain cells by learning something new. Expand your mind. Watch educational programs. We can add to our education everyday if we want to.

It really is all about attitude. Be positive. You are not finished yet. You have more to contribute. In earlier times the elderly were respected for their wisdom garnered from life experience. Why should it be any different today? We just need to change the perspective that our society has of old age. We need to let them know that antiques grow in value as they age!