Building the Better Older Brain: What it is and How to do It

“There is no ‘cure’ for aging, only ways to grow stronger and live a fulfilling life,” said Dr. Marc E. Argonin at a recent Gerontology conference presentation. “The attitude makes an enormous difference.” The better the attitude, the better the brain. How well your brain functions depends on the connections that have been formed in your brain. The more connected you are, the stronger your brain is, particularly in these three ways, or as Dr. Argonin called them, “pillars:”

  • Reserve: your protective base of skills and attributes
  • Resilience: your ability to rebalance in the face of change
  • Reinvention: your effort to develop creative solutions

Dr. Argonin added that the elderly brain tends to focus more on the positive. Because of their age, older people tend not to put things off and may have a broader, more altruistic, world perspective. Thus, they tend to be wiser, which is another key attribute of a healthy older brain, according to the psychiatrist. He defined that wisdom as multifaceted and cultural, allowing individuals to apply experiences. He listed five different types of wise people:

  • Savant: possessing accumulated knowledge, experience, skills
  • Sage: possessing a broad and balanced perspective
  • Curator: possessing empathy and caring for others and for cultural relics or rituals
  • Creator: possessing the talents of an artist, builder, or innovator
  • Seer: possessing spirituality, acceptance, and transcendence



How do we get to this “better older brain?” Dr. Argonin advised the obvious: exercise, physical and mental. However, he said, nobody knows what truly causes people to live longer, and there are no miracle pills or fountains of youth. While there is cognitive impairment associated with age, there are traits and skills we can learn that will combat these impairments. He, like Robert Arking, defines aging as “a ‘time-dependent series of cumulative, progressive, intrinsic, and positive cognitive, emotional, and behavioral changes that usually begin to manifest themselves at mid-life and eventually culminate in increased well-being.”  And, like the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, he believes that age is opportunity no less/Than youth itself, though in another dress,/And as the evening twilight fades away/The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day.”

His full presentation, as well as those of the other presenters at the conference, can be viewed here.

What are your thoughts on aging?

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