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 . 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.
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.
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.