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The Scientific American Healthy Aging Brain: The Neuroscience of Making the Most of Your Mature Mind

ISBN: 978-0-470-64773-8
280 pages
June 2012, Jossey-Bass
The Scientific American Healthy Aging Brain: The Neuroscience of Making the Most of Your Mature Mind (0470647736) cover image


Good news about getting older from Scientific American and Scientific American Mind 

The Scientific American Healthy Aging Brain taps into the most current research to present a realistic and encouraging view of the well-aged brain, a sobering look at what can go wrong––and at what might help you and your brain stay healthy longer. Neurologists and psychologists have discovered the aging brain is much more elastic and supple than previously thought, and that happiness actually increases with age. While our short-term memory may not be what it was, dementia is not inevitable. Far from disintegrating, the elder brain can continue to develop and adapt in many ways and stay sharp as it ages. 

  • Offers new insights on how an aging brain can repair itself, and the five best strategies for keeping your brain healthy
  • Shows how older brains can acquire new skills, perspective, and productivity
  • Dispels negative myths about aging
  • Explores what to expect as our brains grow older 

With hope and truth, this book helps us preserve what we’ve got, minimize what we’ve lost, and optimize the vigor and health of our maturing brains.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi

Preface: Live Long, and Live Well xiii

Introduction: Welcome to the New Old Age 1

What’s Old, Anyway? 2

How Scientists Are Researching Your Brain 3

PART ONE How Your Brain Grows 7

Chapter 1. The Well-Aged Brain: Older and Happier 9

The Myth of a Sad Old Age 10

Actually, It’s Getting Better All the Time 12

Great Late Achievers 14

Are Grandparents Safer Drivers? 16

Do You Think I’m Sexy? Apparently, Yes—at Any Age 16

A Swell of Centenarians: One Hundred Reasons to Take Care of Your Brain 20

Chapter 2. How Your Brain Grows: Zero to Sixty 21

In the Beginning: Your Fetal and Baby Brain 23

A Brief Tour of Your Brain 24

The Gray and the White: Neurons and Myelin 26

Childhood: Building the Brain 28

Th e Teen Brain: Not Yet Ready for Prime Time 29

Get Smart Younger, Delay Dementia Older 32

The Peak Years: Twenties to Sixties 33

Chapter 3. Your Brain Growing Older: What to Expect in a Healthy Aging Brain 37

The Usual Effects of Aging 39

Do the Brains of Men and Women Age Differently? 40

How Memory Works: The Short Version 41

Why White Matter Matters 45

The Aging Brain: Is It Less Connected? 46

Forgetting May Be Vital to Remembering 47

Five Things Most People Get Wrong About Memory 48

The Good News: Slower Is Sometimes Better 51

More Easily Distracted: Why Multitasking Is a Task 55

PART TWO Threats to Your Brain 59

Chapter 4. What Can Go Wrong 61

When Your Brain Needs Help: How Can You Tell? 64

Th e Darkness of Dementia 67

Mild Cognitive Impairment: A Subtle Loss 69

Stroke: Th e Brain Attack 70

A Healing Stroke 72

Parkinson’s Disease 74

Your Brain on Diabetes: Not So Sweet 75

Traumatic Brain Injury: A Blow to Your Thinking Brain 77

Depression: An Abnormal State 78

The Legacy of Cancer: “Chemo Brain” 81

Too Much of a Good Thing: When Medications Mess Up Your Mind 82

What—Me Worry? 85

Chapter 5. Alzheimer’s Disease: The Brain Killer 87

What Is Alzheimer’s Disease? 88

Chasing the Cause 91

Anxiety and Alzheimer’s Disease: Another Reason to Chill 94

Maybe It’s Bad Neural Housekeeping? 97

The Search for a Cure—or Even a Treatment That Works 100

Looking Beyond the Brain 104

An Ounce of Prevention: Marijuana Might Benefit Aging Brains 106

The Future—Without Alzheimer’s Disease 109

PART THREE How to Optimize Your Aging Brain 111

Chapter 6. The Big Five for Optimal Brain Function 113

The Cognitive Shop 116

How to Keep Your Brain Healthy and Nimble 119

Chapter 7. Exercise Your Body: Move Your Body for a Better Brain 123

Th is Brain Was Made for Walking 126

It’s Never Too Late to Start Exercising 127

A Fine Balance: Yoga, Tai Chi, and Fall Prevention 131

Chapter 8. Challenge Your Brain 135

Educated Brains Stay Better Longer 137

Why Testing Boosts Learning 138

Do Brain Fitness Products Work? 139

Computer Training May Keep You Driving Longer 143

Th e Bottom Line 144

Chapter 9. Nutrition: Fuel for Thought 147

Glucose Is Not So Sweet to the Brain 151

Forget the Fructose 152

Omega-3, the Essential Oil 154

Your Brain on Berries, Chocolate, and Wine: The Flavonoid Connection 155

Caffeine: A Perk for Your Brain 162

Is There a Pill for Th at? Supplements and Vitamins 163

Chapter 10. The Social Treatment 167

You’ve Got a Friend, We Hope 169

Talk to Teens, Live Longer 171

Finding and Making Friends in Later Life 173

Chapter 11. Creativity, Spirit, and Attitude: Enrich Thyself 175

Th e Art of an Active Brain 176

Live Larger to Live Better 178

Th e Power of Meditation for the Aging Brain 178

Smile! It Could Make You Happier 181

Attitudes Matter: Th e Optimism Factor 182

PART FOUR The Future for Your Brain 185

Chapter 12. Predictions, Promises, and Possibilities 187

A Fix to Reverse Memory Decline 190

Are You Saving for Th ose Final Years? 191

RX for Th is Good Life 193

Chapter 13. Living in the Now 195

Living with an Aging Brain 196

How We (Eventually) Die 197

Going Out with a Bang: The Brain Surges Just Before Death 199

Living in the Now 200

Sources 203

Illustration Credits 219

Glossary 221

Resources for Aging and Coping 231

About the Author 235

Index 237

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Author Information

Judith Horstman is the author of The Scientific American Day in the Life of Your Brain, The Scientific American Brave New Brain, and The Scientific American Book of Love, Sex, and the Brain. She's an award-winning science journalist whose work has been widely published and is the author of four other books. Visit her Web site at www.JudithHorstman.com

Scientific American is one of the most popular science magazines in the world.

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Praise for The Scientific American Healthy Aging Brain

“Judith Horstman elegantly describes the well-aged brain, and what the latest research suggests to preserve its power and its function.”—Mehmet Oz, M.D., professor of Surgery, New York Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons 

"The Scientific American Healthy Aging Brain is a trusty guide to vibrant later years. Any baby boomer would be smart to read this book—and so be likelier to stay smart longer."—Daniel Goleman, author of The Brain and Emotional Intelligence

“This brilliant book on the aging brain provides vital knowledge about how our brains change with age and what we can do to enhance the incredible potential contained within each of us. A must read for all aging brains!”—Marc Agronin, M.D., geriatric psychiatrist and author of How We Age

“Packed with practical advice and the latest information about the brain as it ages, the Healthy Aging Brain is an indispensable user’s manual, essential for keeping your brain young and healthy as the cerebral odometer ticks away.” —R. Douglas Fields, author of The Other Brain

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Press Release

June 01, 2012
Make the Most of Your Mature Mind With The Healthy Aging Brain

A Good News Guide to the Aging Brain

“Judith Horstman elegantly describes the well-aged brain and what the latest research suggests to preserve its power and its function” – Mehmet Oz, MD,  professor of surgery, New York Presbyterian/Columbia University and host of  The Dr. Oz Show 

San Francisco, Calif.–– Your brain is your most precious real estate, and losing your mind is one of the greatest fears of aging. But while it does slow down with passing years, author of the best-selling Scientific American brain books, Judith Horstman, finds plenty of good news for the well-aged brain.

In her latest book, THE SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN HEALTHY AGING BRAIN: The Neuroscience of Making the Most of Your Mature Mind (Jossey-Bass, June 2012, ISBN: 978-0-470-64773-8, $25.95 / Cloth/Also available as an e-book), she presents an encouraging overview of healthy aging, and a sobering look at what can go wrong, using the latest neuroscience research to find what might help your brain stay sharp and healthy longer.

Research shows the elder brain remains able to change and learn well into very old age and that Alzheimer’s is not inevitable: the risks of degenerative brain diseases may be lowered or offset with lifestyle changes. Moreover, myths of a miserable old age are just that: for many, happiness deepens with age.

Culled from the latest research and articles in Scientific American and Scientific American Mind, The Healthy Aging Brain summarizes what to expect in passing years. It also:

  • Shows how sex, socializing and other pleasures contribute to brain health
  • Lists conditions that may mimic Alzheimer’s, and what to do about them
  • Details the latest in strategies and lifestyle choices to optimize neural health that can be put into use right now
  • Reveals surprising new research underway to expand and extend brain health

The Scientific American Healthy Aging Brain is an indispensible user's manual on how to preserve what you've got, minimize what you've lost, and optimize the vigor and health of your brain as you grow older. Boomers––and their pre- and post-Boomer cousins– will find this useful reading, as will medical and mental health providers.

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