My Dendritic Spines are Numbered

This post originally appeared on http://www.smopf.com.

“If you don’t do it this year, you will be one year older when you do” –Warren Miller

With that in mind, I set out to learn to ski last week.

I always wonder if my ability to learn has calcified in sync with my aging joints. Sadly, age-associated learning impairment is a reality caused by the loss of thin dendritic spines [1]. Dendritic spines protrude from a neuron’s dendrite to create pathways. There are different types of spines – the thin, mobile spines decrease with age, but thicker, immobile spines remain, allowing for the retention of long-term memory. Old people have a tough time learning new things, but they can still remember what they learned in their youth.

Dendritic Spine dynamics

I’ve seen this spine-loss in action. When I was racing motorcycles in my early 20s, I always envied the 10-year-olds with their overbearing parents; Little-League dads with zealous visions of cultivating the next MotoGP racer. Those kids got to be pretty darn fast while I was still struggling to pay my dues. I quietly resented my parents for withholding such important awesome things during my crucial formative years. All I got were Chinese school and piano lessons. And in a display of childhood rebellion, I made a point of sucking so spectacularly that they gave up on me. Thus, I entered adulthood with a skillset of zero.

My morbidly inquisitive nature forced me up the slopes despite my fear that I would pull a Sonny Bono in my doddering geriatric state. I fell hard, I cried harder, I had a hell of a lot of fun. I even did a black diamond just to see what the big kids were up to. It took me almost a half hour to get down.

I did notice one thing out there: There are a lot of old people on skis. Guy Kawasaki, in his speech entitled “Hindsights”, advocates taking up a non-contact sport. Something you can still enjoy when you’re old. In fact, people should learn as many senior-friendly skills as possible while still able. Once your learning days are truly over, those will be your only remaining tools.

I stopped to take pictures of myself because I was too tired to complete a run without taking a break, but didn’t want to look like a pansy sitting on the edge of the slope doing nothing. Pride is a bitch.
I stopped to take pictures of myself because I was too tired to complete a run without taking a break, but didn’t want to look like a pansy sitting on the edge of the slope doing nothing. Pride is a bitch.


1. D. Dumitriu, et al. Selective changes in thin spine density and morphology in monkey prefrontal cortex correlate with aging-related cognitive impairment. J Neurosci. 2010 Jun 2;30(22):7507-15.

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