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

3.77  ·  Rating Details ·  1,288 Ratings  ·  190 Reviews
A leading science writer examines how our brains improve in middle age.
Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer Barbara Strauch explores the latest findings that demonstrate how the middle-aged brain is more flexible and capable than previously thought. In fact, new research from neuroscientists and psychologists suggests that the brain reorganizes, improves in important fu
ebook, 256 pages
Published April 1st 2010 by Penguin Books (first published 2010)
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(showing 1-30 of 2,776)
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Jenny Brown
Jan 06, 2012 Jenny Brown rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jun 03, 2015 Karen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
While working on my master's degree in gerontology, I read many of the researchers that Strauch cites: (Baltes, Levinson, Park, Snowdon, etc.). However, I was very happy to read her popular science book because she made that research more accessible and more applicable. I think this book was so readable in part because she conducted a lot of interviews rather than plowing through stacks of research articles.

She also drew on research by a number of scholars whom I have not read, so that was very
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
Jan 21, 2011 Susan rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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
Mar 08, 2016 Arminius rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, nook-book
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
Jul 13, 2010 Grace rated it really liked it
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
Sep 18, 2011 Nikki rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 09, 2014 Jay rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, 2014
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
May 17, 2010 Marsha rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Parts were fantastic and there were parts I slept through, however, the most important part was the information I gathered from it.
The bottom line is:
Diet and and exercise are the key to a long, healthy life!!
I know! HEADLINE, right there!

The best parts:
hearing all the benefits to the "middle-aged" brain.
scientific studies providing proof to above
new definitions offered for Middle age being mortality risk of 1-4% within a year
New definition of old age being 4% within a year.
Therefore, anyo
Jul 03, 2013 Marian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 14, 2014 Thomas Holbrook rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, non-fiction
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
Jan 15, 2015 Kyle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Due to a slightly subjective title on what constitutes 'middle age', I had made the presumption this book would be referring to early 40s, when in fact the author is referring to late 50s and early 60s.

I questioned continuing on the book after making this discovery, but decided to do so and was glad I did. The book is well researched, and filled with lots of data backed up by brain studies on what things we are good at, bad at, and how we can improve/retain mental cognition as we reach "middle a
Lynne Spreen
Jul 06, 2014 Lynne Spreen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: midlife
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
Feb 12, 2011 Richard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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,
Jan 24, 2011 Bookchick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dong In
Nov 28, 2010 Dong In rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 31, 2012 Teresa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
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
Nov 28, 2010 Paula rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 03, 2014 Annie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jonathan Karmel
The perspective of this book seemed to be from a middle-aged person who has some lapses in short-term memory and wonders whether she may not be as smart as people in their 20's. I found this hard to relate to, because I don't think it would even occur to me that people in their 20's were generally smarter than me. Of course older people generally have more ability to leverage their experience and maturity to exhibit wisdom. I haven't met people like the author who appear to be insecure about how ...more
Interesting and reassuring for those of us who own an older brain. Required a little skimming, but overall very informative.
Jan 19, 2011 Alvin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Aug 15, 2011 Nola rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Tom Schulte
Feb 22, 2016 Tom Schulte rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very readable, very enlightening overview of the science on brain health and maintenance of people, say, 40 - 60. While there is nothing conclusive that nootropics—also called smart drugs, memory enhancers, neuro-enhancers, cognitive enhancers, and intelligence enhancers—are possible, let alone present in the form of resveratrol or red wine, blueberries or antioxidants. But, there is studies upon studies that prove the existence of and capability to foster neurogenesis (birth of neurons)—the p ...more
Paul Sheppard
Jul 31, 2015 Paul Sheppard rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I had a number of issues with this book.
Yes, it is written to be "accessible". However, the science is so diluted, skewed, and skewered that I can't really draw conclusions from it. The author is convinced that keeping the middle-aged employed is a great thing. I, as a young person, have some issues with this as it will be very difficult for me to get a position in my field after I'm finished with graduate school because the jobs simply don't exist. I know this is an issue in many other fields a
Nov 26, 2014 Steven rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: psychology, women
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.

Terri Anderson
Apr 12, 2015 Terri Anderson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As I approached my seventieth birthday, I had many concerns about the effects of aging on my brain. I feel much better about my future thought processes after reading Barbara Strauch's book. The book is very readable and encouraging, particularly because it is based on scientific research. As we age we lose some brain cells and gain others. We have better judgment and often are more creative. Strauch explains the strengths of experienced people in their 50s (men and women continue to improve men ...more
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Barbara Strauch was deputy science editor of The New York Times in charge of health and medical science. She was 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...

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