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Teaching Your Old Brain, New Tricks

Teaching Your Old Brain, New Tricks

If you ever have the chance to sit down and talk with my mom, I know you would be impressed. Impressed with her ability to remember details, be completely up to date with world events, problem solve her own technical problems, plan and create three nutritious meals each day, clean her sprawling bungalow and manage her own finances, including keeping a shrewd eye on her investments. Yes, you would be impressed, but probably even more impressed when you found out she was 98.

The idea of ageing has somehow become associated with declining ability,

but that does not have to be the case.

Study after study are debunking the myth that cerebral functions automatically decrease over time, and that there is nothing, we can do about it.

Well, the following list of 10 golden graduates would beg to differ with those old notions and offer a little of their own evidence, that age is a state of mind and not ability.

  • Willadene Zedan, 85

After completing high school in 1943 she took a little 50-year academic break, when she enrolled in Marian University in Wisconsin, and on May 18, 2013 graduated at the age of 85.

  • Anne Martindell, 87

In June of 2002, Anne Martindell received both an undergraduate and honorary degree from Smith College at the age of 87. After graduating, she wrote a memoir called Never Too Late.

  • Charlie Ball, 89

Charlie had started his college time in 1941, but then the war broke out and he enlisted to serve in WWII. He never forgot how close he got to completing his degree and so he enrolled in Arkansas Tech, graduating with the distinction of being the oldest alumni at that institution.

  • Mary Fasano, 89

In 1997 Mary made news by becoming the oldest person ever to earn a Harvard degree at the age of 89. She started the ball rolling when she earned her high school diploma at the age of 71.

  • Bertie Gladwin 90

Bertie received his master’s degree in Intelligence History from Buckingham University at the age of 90, but he had earned 2 degrees before this accomplishment. At the age of 60, he received a BA in Psychology, and when he was 70, he had completed a BSc in Molecular Biology. So, it just seemed natural to get his master’s when he was 90. When asked why, he said “I did them just because I was interested in them and wanted to know more about them.”

  • Wally Taibleson, 90

Wally began his college experience in 1993, at the age of 70. But he didn’t stop there, earning a bachelor’s degree and three master’s degrees. The third he acquired at the age of 90.  At his ceremony he stated, “As long as you’re learning, you’re not old.”

  • Cliff Dadson, 93

Dadson has inspired many, as he has been on the talking circuit for years. After a noble career of service with the Royal Air Force during WWII, he gained experience as an electrical engineer. But his most notable accomplishment was receiving his BA Degree in Arts from Open University at the age of 93, making him Great Britain’s oldest college graduate. Oh, he is 94 now and skydiving for charity.

  • Twila Boston, 98

Twila had the support of her family to go to college but life kept getting in the way. When she finally found 

a little free time, she enrolled in Utah State University earning a bachelor’s degree in American Studies at 98-years-old.

  • Nola Ochs, 98

Considered the golden sweetheart on campus, Nola received a degree in general studies, majoring in history, with a 3.7 gpa, from Fort Hays State University in 2007. It was a memorable moment as she graduated alongside her granddaughter Alexandra. 2 years later Nola received a master’s degree at the age of 98, making her the oldest recipient of a master’s degree in history.

  • Leo Plass, 99

Leo dropped out of college in 1932 when he was just 20. Then, 79 years later Plass returned to campus to earn his degree at the age of 99. He currently holds the title of being the oldest graduate known.

Scientists explain these accomplishments with the phenomena called neoplasticity, the ability of the brain to change, creating new neurons and strong connections, even as the brain ages.

Here are 4 keys to engage your brain in creating new neuron development now:

  • Use it or lose it. If you do not prod specific brain functions, function lose will occur.
  • Use it and improve it. Just like other muscles the brain needs a challenge to keep it fit.
  • Salience matters. It has to be something important to you.
  • Repetition matters. To create strong mental connections the brain needs to experience the effect over time. Practice is critical to the process.

 So, age doesn’t define our ability. Healthy, strong neural connections are the key.

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