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?

Kids do Better with Low Conflict in both Step and Traditional Families

This post is twelfth in a series of videos available in our new BYU Social Sciences YouTube channel! The channel contains tidbits of many of our most popular lectures and useful, succinct, research-backed advice on relationship, political, religious, media, and financial issues. Follow us there to stay up-to-date on wisdom that will help you and  your family live better lives.

What is the number one predictor for the poor wellbeing of children? According to Dr. Patricia Papernow, the answer is the lack of contention in the home. “[It] is not divorce,” she said at our recent Social Work Conference. “It’s conflict, it’s not family structure, it’s family process.” When children are living in an environment where there is conflict between the parents they suffer from a lower attention span, a weakened immune system, and poor academic performance. The factor behind these symptoms is sleep. Dr. Papernow says: “When adults are tense, kids don’t sleep as well and that makes all the rest of that.” She suggested: “You have a kid who’s not sleeping well, do check for tension. Children with low-conflict divorced parents are doing significantly better than kids with high-conflict, never-divorced parents. This is true for adults too. Kids can manage the differences if the adults manage them well.”

The conference, held in October of 2016, was an opportunity for professionals and community members to better understand the challenges faced by stepfamilies, treatments for and research on stepfamilies and how it can be used to increase their quality of life, and create an awareness of stepfamily related issues within the community.  Dr. Papernow is “an internationally recognized expert on stepfamilies. She integrates her deep understanding of the research with four decades of clinical practice and a wide variety of modalities and theoretical modes (Internal Family Systems, couple and family therapy, trauma, attachment, Gestalt, interpersonal neurobiology). She has written two of the classic books in the field as well as numerous articles, book chapters, and guest blogs. She is known as a highly engaging teacher, an excellent speaker, and attuned, caring, clinical supervisor. Dr. Papernow is a psychologist in private practice in Hudson, Ma, and Director of the Institute for Stepfamily Education.


What’s Your Opinion on This?