The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind
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The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind

3.75 of 5 stars 3.75  ·  rating details  ·  785 ratings  ·  148 reviews
A leading science writer examines how the brain's capacity reaches its peak in middle age

For many years, scientists thought that the human brain simply decayed over time and its dying cells led to memory slips, fuzzy logic, negative thinking, and even depression. But new research from neuroscien­tists and psychologists suggests that, in fact, the brain reorganizes, impro...more
Hardcover, 229 pages
Published April 16th 2010 by Viking Adult (first published 2010)
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Jenny Brown
Simplistic, feel-good ladies' magazine journalism, that reads like something you'd read in a doctor's waiting room. Far too much of the book is taken up with anecdotal reports about how "wise" the author's friends believe themselves to be in middle age. When the author bothers to describe actual research, she dumbs it down so much her account conveys almost no actual information.

This book appears to be popular because it tells fearful middle aged people what they want to hear, that even though t...more
We do forget names. We do forget why we came into the room. But we can still run multi-million dollar corporations or other complex jobs. We are happier and don't let little things bother us as much as when we were younger. And there are things we can do to keep our brains healthy and dementia-free. More education helps. Using our brains extensively helps. There might be dietary things that help, but that hasn't been proven conclusively. Most of all, we can remain physically active. Physical act...more
Jason Pettus
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

I'm about to turn 43, so I'm particularly interested these days in learning more about how the middle-aged brain works, and especially if there is any proven advice yet about ways to stave off the dementia and Alzheimer's that might come later in life, here now in my forties when I can still do something a...more
The Secret Life of the Grown Up Brain is a fascinating look at the middle age brain. The author Barbara Strauch defines middle age starting at age 40. She states that it was once though that the brain started deteriorating at the young age of 20. It has been discovered fortunately that theory is wrong.

Studies on memory, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are discussed thoroughly. One study examined the deceased brains of two intellectual people. One was a Nun who was great teacher and was known f...more
Barbara Strauch's "The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain" is an easily accessible and informative read about the changes in the brain during middle age as well as recent research that is revolutionizing the way we understand our brain and how we age. She has a no nonsense approach that is refreshing and without condescension. This is a great book for the average person or the more scientifically inclined out there. And it is packed full of good news. The mid-life crisis has no medical standing a...more
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Strauch shows that the middle-aged brain is actually in it's prime. It has higher verbal memory and inductive reasoning than younger brains. It has also learned to filter out negativity allowing us to be more positive as we age. The brain has also developed techniques for using both hemispheres, as opposed to younger brains which are predominantly one hemisphere dominant. Strauch does a good job debunking myths regarding the neuroplasticity of the brains of middle...more
I learned a lot about the brain and brain research reading this book, but I discovered I've had a "middle-aged brain" all my life. Strauch implies that young people have amazing memories, but as we get older, we become scatterbrained and forgetful. I'm pretty sure I've never been able to remember all my appointments without writing them down, or always know where my car keys are, the way Strauch implies young adults do without effort. My young adult daughter forgets a lot of things as well. Asid...more
Engagingly written for the layperson, Barbara Strauch has mostly good news for those of us not in our "first youth." Sure, your brain may forget names, but it is busy doing other things that may be more important. Strauch cites (fairly) recent research on the benefits of exercise (definitely helps, darn it), certain foods (probably helps), doing puzzles/learning new things (probably helps), and being social (couldn't hurt). If you remember to pick it up and read it, it may help you feel better a...more
Thomas Holbrook
It is pleasing to be able to own that one’s brain is “grown-up.” It is challenging to understand what a “grown-up brain” means. When I discovered this book, the title caught my attention (as it hints at speaking to my favorite subject – brain plasticity); it was the subtitle that made the sale. Having approached, my some definitions, my “middle years,” I was excited to explore what talents I possess now that I have crossed that threshold. The author, a Science Editor at the New York Times, does...more
This book was really encouraging to me: explaining the strengths of the brain as it ages and even including how to help keep your brain strong and well functioning as it ages (mainly, being physically active. Run! Secondarily: Eat foods that are good for your heart). A lot of scientific research is discussed. It's mostly at a high level with the details rather left out, but you get to see a whole lot of the research that one (if I want the details, I can go look up the papers). Overall, I felt t...more
Feb 12, 2011 Richard rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Middle-aged folks, or those that know some
Recommended to Richard by: Cognitive Science reading group
For those of us who read a great deal of the Popular Cognition subgenre, a great deal in this book won’t be surprising, although Strauch has molded it into a story that pays special attention to the aging brain, with an emphasis on the strengths and weaknesses of the middle-aged brain.

Just like that proverbial middle-aged brain, things are a bit fuzzy. For example, what precisely is meant by middle-aged? If it is based strictly on age, then the definition she seems to be leaning towards is from,...more
Heidi Thorsen
The book was full of information from the latest brain research, which is contrary to what most people have been told all their lives. Sure, you can kill off brain cells through various activities, but unlike what we were told in our youth, OUR BRAIN CAN GROW MORE. And guess what helps your brain grow more better cells? Healthy diet and exercise. Anyone surprised?

There is a decline in short-term memory and processing speed that is associated with middle age (here primarily defined from the 40s t...more
Dong In
I have been studying something since the time I can't recall and recently I am seeing a little difference in my brain. A couple of years ago, I could remember almost everything from what I read. So even when I could not understand what I was reading for exam, I was able to pass it. These days, my memory capability seems to be decreasing but I can understand more easily logics, situations, relations of what I am studying or dealing with. I took it for granted because friends of my ages were exper...more
I've been telling everyone I know, especially my fellow middle-aged friends, about this book. It gives an optimistic view of the aging brain, as well as dispelling some die-hard lies and myths about "mid-life crises" and "empty nest syndromes" back by up-to-date scientific research (by time of publication).

While it is a little bit pop-science, keep in mind that most people can't handle the hard science anyway or they'd be reading Scientific American instead of this book. Plus, Ms. Strauch write...more
This is a must read for baby boomers such as myself who can't remember what we were going to say, where we laid our keys, and why did we go into a certain room. The author, deputy science editor at the New York Times, and a variety of psychologists, neuro scientists and the like, have convinced me that our aging brains are actually stronger and functioning at higher, more complex levels than when we were younger and could certainly remember more. Having read the book I'm feeling more mental acui...more
This book is like many other books when talking about how the brain works and how its functioning could be enhanced (e.g., exercise, do new things, and solve problems). It is different in that looks at the advantages and disadvantages of the middle-aged brain. As we age, we may not be able to remember things or solve math problems as quickly as we used. Because of this, people think the middle-aged brain is declining. Surprisingly, the book reveals that the middle-aged brain can be at its peak....more
Could not finish. Despite a promising start it just bogs down with "this researcher said this and that researcher did that." I'm sure the research is fascinating, but its simply not presented in a compelling way.

Contrast this with the Emperor of all maladies, a history of cancer, which you would think would be even drier. Yet that book reads like a novel you can't put down. It has compelling, urgent narrative elements.
This book is good news overall and concurs with my experience with my brain. Barbara Strauch explores a wide variety of research being done on the mental abilities of older people, and talks about what seems to improve cognition, the physiological aspects, and aging itself. I think she could have done a better job of putting the research results into her own words and organizing them, but this is just nitpicking.
My middle-aged mind may be falling apart, but I know a clinker when I read one. The opening 30 pages cover the same information over and over, and the proof given is that the author went to dinner with a friend and he talked about how his mind improved as he got older. I'm exaggerating, but not by much.
Full of interesting facts about the middle-aged brain - particularly the way that intelligent people in middle age use bilateralization (left and right hemispheres simultaneously) to compensate for the loss of raw processing brain speed that is higher in the young. A little too repetitive.

Very nice balance between anecdote and fact. More scientific detail about current trends in neuroscience than the usual pop-science book. Really interesting.
Apr 15, 2010 Teresa marked it as to-read
I heard an interesting interview with the author on NPR.
Lynne Spreen
I cannot believe I never reviewed this! Secret Life is a wonderful book, especially if you are over 40 and wondering if it's all downhill from here. Not only is it NOT downhill, there are some fabulous things that happen to your brain as you age.

Ms. Strauch is or was the Science Editor for the New York Times, and in that role she followed scientists around and reported on their findings. She writes like a smart friend of yours who's just fascinated by this topic and can tell a good story about...more
Approaching age 40, I am pleased to learn that the middle-aged brain does not simply decline but compensates and even improves in some respects.
Middle-aged brain deficits: slower processing speed and decreased memory, especially short-term memory
Attributes: greater simultaneous use of left & right brain and ability to integrate information & experience leading to greater problem-solving and creativity, improved ability to regulate emotions leading to improved problem-solving, relationshi...more
Bill Sleeman
The science in the Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain really isn’t all that secret but what Strauch does very well is bring all of the literature and research together in one place and then boil it down into a very effective narrative for the non-scientist. One problem I did have with the work was that the author does not seem to have spent as much time researching the spiritual piece. She introduces it and then quickly moves away from the subject to faith without exploring in any depth why faith...more
After reading the table of contents and then following up with the introduction, it became clear to me that Strauch was definitely not going to fix the anecdotal narration that put me to sleep with her first book, The Primal Teen. I absolutely hate being forced to fish through this gimmick of storytelling between ambiguous case study postulations again and again. Since genetically I come from a long line of good looking, healthy despite diet people of quick wit well into their later years I supp...more
Linda Robinson
The author stacks the frontal lobe of the book with feel-good research results from neuroscientist researchers, and saves the less good stuff in the midbrain of the book. The fun news: the amygdala twins (DANGER! LINDA ROBINSON!) are dozier, less likely to trigger irrational reaction. The older brain is calmer, does as well, or better, as young brains at problem-solving, makes better financial decisions. Judgment improves, whether from long experience, or less activity distracting. One anecdote...more
[3½ stars] Strauch discusses all sorts of interesting studies of the middle-aged brain without losing the reader in too much specialized vocabulary (although I found myself wanting a pronunciation guide for "dentate gyrus"). Her message is generally positive: although the brain does show some wear and tear by your forties and later, it's more efficient, continues to grow and adapt, and while you'll lose some names, you'll gain some wisdom and emotional equilibrium. I was somewhat disappointed by...more
Using the way the human brain changes with age as her criterion, Strauch defines middle age as 40 to 65 or later, the end point being different for different individuals. It is an age when we start to forget more than before, but it is also an age when we can see the bigger picture and can link patterns to solve social and business problems more easily than the youngsters. It is an age with wisdom, confidence and optimism.

In the first part of the book she is trying to dispel a myth that brains...more
I skimmed this at the library, and I will have to read it more fully! Her other book is "The primal teen" which explains why teenagers act the way that they do..based on brain development. I think I want to read both.

Middle aged people actually have gotten a bad rap about the myth that the entire system is in decline. That they (we) misplace things and are slower to learn new things apparently. This book celebrates the efficiency of the middle aged brain with new studies to back it up. We recog...more
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Barbara Strauch is deputy science editor of The New York Times in charge of health and medical science. She is the author of two books, “The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain,’’ on the surprising talents of the middle-aged mind, published in April 2010, and “The Primal Teen,’’ on the teenage brain.
More about Barbara Strauch...
The Primal Teen: What the New Discoveries about the Teenage Brain Tell Us about Our Kids Why Are They So Weird? Da geht noch was (German Edition)

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