Your Brain…Size Does Matter

The conventional belief has been that as we get older the size of the brain shrinks or atrophies. This has been debunked to a great degree since a 2009 Dutch study at the University of Maastrich.

The researchers looked at the cognitive ability of two groups of people––average age 69 years. The one group of participants were found to be healthy in their mental capacities while the second group was found to have substantial cognitive decline.

The participants were also given MRI scans measuring seven different parts of the brain. 
Behavioral data was studied from 1994 to 2005––with scans taken between 1997 and 1999. The cognitive decline was measured by drops of at least 30 percent on two or more of six core tests. These involved verbal learning and fluency, recall, processing speed, and complex information processing, as a screening tool for dementia.

In contrast to the 35 people who stayed healthy, the 30 people who declined cognitively over eleven years showed a significant deterioration in certain areas of the brain. In short, among the people whose cognition got worse, older participants had smaller brain areas than younger participants. The healthy group did not have a significant loss in brain size.

So what was believe to be shrinkage of the brain due to aging, was actually due to a pathological process occurring in the brain. As long as you keep the brain healthy, researchers believe that the gray matter that supports cognition might not shrink much at all. 

So how do you keep the brain healthy? Think of that old phrase, “Use it or lose it.”

If you don’t use your muscles, muscle mass diminishes substantially with age. The same is true for the brain. The following are the key factors for keeping your brain size at its optimum:

  • Be physically active
  • Challenge yourself with difficult mental tasks
  • “Feed” your brain with a well-balanced diet
  • Minimize toxins such as alcohol––yes it is a toxin––drugs, tobacco, etc.
  • Engage in regular sexual activity––it’s good for your brain
  • Calm your mind with relaxation, meditation or yoga
The takeaway from this is that you are not a victim of age and you can actively participate in maintaining a healthy and sizeable brain.


“The Prevalence of Cortical Gray Matter Atrophy May Be Overestimated In the Healthy Aging Brain,” Saartje Burgmans, PhD student, Martin P. J. van Boxtel, PhD, MD, Eric F. P. M. Vuurman, PhD, Floortje Smeets, PhD student, and Ed H. B. M. Gronenschild, PhD, Maastricht University; Harry B. M. Uylings, PhD, Maastricht University and VU University Medical Center Amsterdam; and Jelle Jolles, PhD, Maastricht University; Neuropsychology, Vol. 23, No. 5, 2009

Searching For Happiness

The majority of surveys indicate that about 65% of seniors and retirees are happy or satisfied in this phase of life – which means that approximately a third are not.

The search for happiness is what many spend their entire lives looking for, only to find that it has eluded them. This can lead to depression or switching off from leading a fulfilling life. The problem with happiness is that it is a one-sided illusion. When we get married we hear, “live happily ever after”. That may have been true in the fantasy world of Hollywood in the 50’s. The reality is quite different.

Approximately, 50% of marriages end in divorce and in the remainder approximately half are unhappy or “just getting along”. So we see people approaching retirement thinking, “Gee, I thought it was going to be different by now”.

It’s not just the relationship situation. Some have health issues in their later years which makes them miserable and for others it is a lack of money. Today 77% of those over 65 receive some form of government pension.

If we think during our lives that if we have money, a great family, good marriage, etc., that it will make us happy. However, all of these come with their down sides. What family hasn’t had conflict  in one form or another. Searching for happiness is a bit like trying to find a one-sided magnetic. A magnet has both a positive and negative pole and no matter how many times you saw it in half, it will have the same positive and negative.

Life is both positive and negative, support and challenge, pain and pleasure, and the secret is to integrate and appreciate both sides. So what can one do practically to deal with their perceived unhappiness?

Here is a strategy, particularly for retirees.

1. Identify what is making you unhappy. Whatever that is, write down at least 10 benefits of that issue on a piece of paper. For example, if your husband left you for a younger woman when you were in your fifties, write down 10 benefits – don’t stop until you can think of all 10 and put them down on paper. Keep going further if need be,  until you start to feel that the event is not pushing your buttons to the same degree.

2. Find a mentor. Everyone needs a mentor. As we get older we may think, “I don’t need some youngster to tell me what to do”! Mentorship is about giving guidance in any area of life. A priest or rabbi could be a mentor. A financial advisor guiding seniors with their investments could be a mentor. Even a retiree embarking on a new career needs a mentor to assist in fulfilling goals. Find someone that you readily connect with and who doesn’t charge too much, then do it.

3. Studies have shown that physical activity at any age enhances a state of wellbeing. If you feel unhappy or down, the stimulation and chemicals released in the body will change your mental state. 

4. Find a renewed purpose. Studies have also shown that those with a purpose feel more inspired and have a greater chance of living longer. Get involved; create a new business; develop a hobby or volunteer – you will be greatly rewarded.

Live life to the fullest!

Retirement – A Chance To Be Daring

Retirement – A Chance To Be Daring
You wouldn’t think that the words retirement and daring could be used in the same sentence. It may be counterintuitive, but you have the freedom and opportunity to be daring, especially as you don’t have to worry about whether you are going to cause strife with friends or work colleagues.
We basically have 3 phases to our lives:

This is where we do our schooling and college training so that we can have the opportunities and preparation for the next phase of our lives.

In this phase we have children, succeed in our jobs, and hopefully have some asset accumulation.
Traditionally, this has been when we usually slow down and for  some unfortunately, it is a period in which they wait for the end. This paradigm is starting to change.
I want to address the retirement phase because not only do you not have to slow down; you can just change the form of what you have been doing. You can have tremendous freedom because you no longer have dependent children nor a specific job to tie you down. So you are free to pick and choose how you want to live your life.
In late 2011 we decided to do something different, what some others considered daring. We decided that we would sell up everything; our house, car and even some furnishings, and travel over the following year without a definitive plan of where we would live. The only thing that we did know was that we would probably be coming back to Perth because of our children and grandchildren. The comments that we typically received were; “You guys are crazy.” “How can you just sell up and go?” “What about your family?” We did think after a while that this was something that people just didn’t do. We were wrong. If you think you are doing something that no one else has done, don’t worry, there is always someone who is doing it and perhaps to a greater degree.
Several weeks ago while we were in America, we came across an article in USA Today about a retired couple who sold everything up; house, cars, furnishings, to permanently travel. Lynne and Tim Martin, 73 and 68 from California have created a “home-free” lifestyle whereby they rent apartments in various countries and even back in the states, so that they can see their family occasionally. They do this all on $70,000 a year, not a fortune, but they can have a comfortable lifestyle by budgeting for the different places that they stay.
You see, Lynne and Tim have decided that for them, seeing the world, sharing time together, having new and exciting experiences is highest in value. While some may consider them crazy, they have a sense of liberation living their life as they do. 
I really see retirement as an opportunity to push the boundaries, to experience things you did not have the time or perhaps money to do in your earlier years. Even if you don’t have the money, retirement is the time to be free to just think of new horizons. So go for it and don’t worry about what others think. As a colleague of mine once said, “Better to piss somebody else off than to piss off yourself”.