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Boosting Mental Fitness in Middle Age

Research shows that education is an essential element to keeping the brain fit as it ages, an issue explored by the New York Times reporter Patricia Cohen in the latest issue of Education Life.

For those in midlife and beyond, a college degree appears to slow the brain’s aging process by up to a decade, adding a new twist to the cost-benefit analysis of higher education — for young students as well as those thinking about returning to school….

Many researchers believe that human intelligence or brainpower consists of dozens of assorted cognitive skills, which they commonly divide into two categories. One bunch falls under the heading "fluid intelligence," the abilities that produce solutions not based on experience, like pattern recognition, working memory and abstract thinking, the kind of intelligence tested on I.Q. examinations. These abilities tend to peak in one’s 20s.

"Crystallized intelligence," by contrast, generally refers to skills that are acquired through experience and education, like verbal ability, inductive reasoning and judgment. While fluid intelligence is often considered largely a product of genetics, crystallized intelligence is much more dependent on a bouquet of influences, including personality, motivation, opportunity and culture.

To illustrate how crystallized intelligence can operate, Gene D. Cohen, a founder of the field of geriatric psychiatry, related a story about his in-laws from his book "The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain." The couple, in their 70s, arrived in Washington for a visit during a snowstorm and found themselves stranded by the train station. When they saw a pizzeria across the street, his father-in-law had an idea. The couple went inside, ordered a pizza to be delivered to their daughter’s house, and then asked if they could ride along.

 

  

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