Keen-Mindedness and Aging

Definition: keen-minded – “mentally alert” – (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Why are some elderly people more keen-minded than others? In youth and middle age some people are more mentally alert and vigorous than others. Keen-mindedness tends to be habit forming: a combination of fortunate genetic endowment and a lifestyle that keeps the intellect well honed.

Evidence suggests that those who start off with strong mental assets are more likely to preserve them throughout the total life span. It’s not just that their functioning remains relatively high because it started high, but it is also because the rate and amount of falling off appears to be smaller. In fact, studies of very bright people throughout their lives indicate that growth may continue indefinitely in some areas and show little if any decline in others. How we make use of what we have also seems to be important in the mental as well as physical sphere.
The athlete who “goes to pot” can be compared with the intelligent person who does not discipline and develop his thoughts or gird himself to meet mental challenges.

Attitude and expectation play important roles here. Our society usually calls upon children to live up to expectations. If we do not expect a person to keep up with current events, to make responsible decisions, to continue learning, to create and innovate, then why should he expect this of himself?

The 80-year-old may have nourished for many decades the expectation that 80-year-olds do not think very well or enjoy life much. He becomes the victim of his own expectations. It is the rare individual who can transcend the climate of such attitudes.

But there is no reason to suppose this effect starts in old age. How many people continue to expect creative thought from themselves and others in middle age?

Cultural expectations do not ensure, however, that all people will continue to develop their mental resources throughout life, nor do they prevent some people from doing so even when expectations are negative.

It is clear, however, that the quality and zest we bring to our mental life in old age has much to do with the climate of expectations.

Quotable Quote: “The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age, which means never losing your enthusiasm.”

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