LONDON, England / The Telegraph / Lifestyle / Health News / June 25, 2010
Wisdom comes from the brain slowing down in old age making elderly people less impulsive and driven by emotion, researchers say.
By Rebecca Smith, Medical Editor
Photo: Christine Boyd
American researchers carried out a series of studies on 3,000 people aged between 60 and 100 to find out what happens to the brain as it ages.
They discovered that elderly people can still learn new abilities but their brains are less dependent on 'feel good' hormones making them appear less driven by emotion and impulsivity.
This in essence, is wisdom, the Royal College of Psychiatrists Congress in Edinburgh was told.
Professor Dilip Jeste of the University of California, San Diego, said: "The fact that older people are slower to respond than younger people is widely seen as a disadvantage. But that's not always the case.
"The elderly brain is less dopamine-dependent, making people less impulsive and controlled by emotion. Older people also less likely to respond thoughtlessly to negative emotional stimuli because their brains have slowed down compared to younger people. This, in fact is what we call wisdom.
"MRI scans have also identified the four regions of the brain that contribute to wisdom, with older people demonstrating a higher level of activity between these regions than younger people."
Scans of elderly people's brains also found that their ability to learn new skills was undiminished despite their advancing age.
Professor Jeste added: "Probably the most exciting breakthrough in the last decade has been the finding that neuroplasticity, the ability to generate neurones and synapses, continues throughout an individual's life."
He said that older people should gain confidence from the knowledge that they can become sharper and develop new skills in older age.
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