The natural act of aging isn’t all doom and gloom

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As we move forward toward true maturity, we need to replace our current framework of aging with a “lifespan perspective” that accepts the gains and losses accompanying any stage of human development.

Laura Carstensen, director of Stanford University’s Center on Longevity and Life-Span Development, led the opening session of the 2006 Joint Conference of the National Council on Aging and American Society on Aging with these words: “If you want someone to be able to learn a new language, the age you want is 2, but if you want someone to be able to solve a complex cultural or political problem, that calls for those who are in their 70s, 80s or even 90s.” It appears to be a fact that people have different cognitive strengths at particular developmental stages in their lives.

For way too long, the prevailing presumption we have had about growing older is that humans undergo a steady and negative course of mental and physical aging. While it is true that some areas of our cognition do diminish with age, others, for example our general knowledge, vocabulary and emotional-psychological regulation, actually improve over the years.

Some of the criticism I receive from readers, especially those who are younger, is that I keep saying there really are strengths and new and interesting paths to be found as we grow older. This is difficult for the younger folks to believe because almost everything they see and hear will intuitively work against that idea.

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