Do only the good die young? Should we trust anyone over thirty? There was always Rimbaud, the brilliant prodigy, the romantic who was simply pining to be able to fall on his sword. And Keats and Byron who could not bare to age. The disruption of the senses, the redemption through sin and so on. But what of the rest who has they sail through the middle and then golden or not so shiny years have to continue to write or paint or sing or compose their masterpiece in ever more ingenious ways without sounding like they are reprising their glory years. To suffer the cultural apartheid of not being something of a marketable commodity.
…Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms:
And such too is the grandeur of the dooms
We have imagined for the mighty dead;
An endless fountain of immortal drink,
Pouring unto us from the heaven’s brink.( Keats, Endymion )
Research does seem to indicate that the brain effectively loses neurons throughout life. However, studies do reveal that it is not the quantity of of neurons that is central to intellectual capacity, but instead, the connections between neurons.Ideally, lots of neurons and well connected. The connections are called dendrites which apparently flourish in a habitat, environment which is stimulating and reassuring. Apparently from middle age until octogenarian status the number and size of the dendrites increases.
from Psychology Today: The third element to the equation of healthy brain aging is the flexible mind. Here’s where we get to creativity. Another tried and true finding in the psychology of aging came from the Seattle Longitudinal Study carried out by Warner Schaie and Sherry Willis. They came to the amazing discovery that over time a flexible mental attitude was one of the most important ingredients to staving off intellectual declines among people well into their 70s and 80s….
…Perhaps it is for this reason that creative artists and musicians such as Picasso, Verdi, and Tony Bennett (who I covered in my “Age Busters” blog posting) maintain their youthful vitality until so late in life. Analyzing the lives of a set of six highly creative older adults (including Grandma Moses), Italian researcher Antonini and colleagues in 2008 identified a passionate commitment to pursuit of their discipline as the common thread. These creative elders also shared the trait of flexibility or plasticity and rather than dwell on their accomplishments of the past, looked forward to new goals and new creative enterprises. They maintained their curiosity and, similar to the quality of openness to experience, were able to keep up with their times and adapt to changing circumstances. Read More:http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201003/creativity-and-successful-brain-aging-going-the-flow
What this means is that creativity as one ages may actually improve with a positive impact on morale, tendencies to depression and loneliness which may actually decrease as the brain ages. The societal pressures to succumb to the age stereotype may persist but with extended lives we have probably come to a inflection point where the business models that sustained the youth imagery will splinter.
Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call’d him soft names in many a mu
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such an ecstasy!
Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—
To thy high requiem become a sod.
Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!…( Keats, Ode to a Nightingale )
What has allowed Carter to remain prolific for so long? He’s one of a growing cohort of aging masters (think Clint Eastwood, 78; composer Milton Babbit, 92; and playwright Horton Foote, 92) who have captured the attention of gerontologists. There’s evidence that their professions, more than any particular lifestyle choice, may have contributed to their longevity. “The very act of engaging one’s mind in creative ways directly affects health,” says Dr. Gene Cohen, director of the Center on Aging, Health & Humanities at George Washington University. In 2001, Cohen undertook a study of 150 adults ages 65 to 100 to examine the effects of various pursuits on their well-being. The control group was engaged in noncreative community activities and the other group participated in community-based art programs. After one year, Cohen found that the group engaged in creative activities, such as painting or singing in a choir, had started fewer new medications, experienced fewer falls and made fewer doctor’s visits than the control group. “Anything that stimulates the brain, reduces stress, and promotes a more balanced emotional response will trigger positive changes in the body,” he says.Read More:http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2008/12/09/creativity-and-aging.html
In a recent study, psychologist Lynn Hasher and her group at the University of Toronto found that older participants were (as many seniors will attest!) more distractible than their younger counterparts. However, members of this older, distractible group were also better able to use the distracting information to solve problems presented later in the study. This work, along with other studies on aging and cognition, suggest that the aging brain is characterized by a broadening focus of attention. Numerous studies suggest that highly creative individuals also employ a broadened rather than focused state of attention. This state of widened attention allows the individual to have disparate bits of information in mind at the same time. Combining remote bits of information is the hallmark of the creative idea. Read More:http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/life-art/200903/creativity-and-the-aging-brain