This blog is part of an ongoing series that answers this simple question: What might it mean for older adults to claim that they are still “fearfully and wonderfully made?”
Today I want to invite you into a neurological universe called “neurogenesis,” which you will remember from Biology 101 in high school. (Actually, you WON’T remember this amazing capability of the [older] adult brain, because it wasn’t discovered until long after you left high school!) Back then, we all believed that our brains added neurons only until a certain age. After that it was a downhill race to the bottom, when at old age we were left with a smaller amount of brain power with which to confront our inner and outer worlds. Dissolute living would likely increase that inevitability.
In case this is new: Neurogenesis is the God-given ability of the human brain—even into old age—to add to its capacity by adding neuronal connectivity. (Some neuroscientists say that actual neurons are added, and that they integrate into already-existing brain circuitry.) Just when we were thinking it was inevitable that eventually we would be playing with half a deck at best, it turns out that our bodies and brains can work together to increase our mental capacities! (Sorry, but dissolute living is still a problem!)
This fearful/wonderful fact has some obvious ramifications: You are not doomed to a life of decreasing mental acuity. Exercise, stimulation, diet, social connections—all determine how neurogenesis occurs. Given high quality habits in these elements of life, you might reasonably hope that your brain could retain its faculties, wisdom, curiosity, emotions and spirituality well into your later years.
Fearful and wonderful? Of course. But also a bit sobering: You may still have—or add to—capacities that you can use to remain engaged, to make friends, influence the world and find joy with life! To put this bluntly: Because of neurogenesis, you may not be done yet!
You can still do God’s work….