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  • Writer's pictureEmine Topcu

Ageing: It’s not all bad news

We talked about various aspects of ageing and its impacts on the brain. It is scary to get old and lose some of the capabilities that we have when we are young. As a person who went back to studying in her middle-ages, I wanted to finish our ageing series with a personal post. I do not consider myself old per se, but as we have mentioned in our previous posts, ageing is an ongoing process that starts early in life. So I thought my experience could be relevant.


When I decided to go back to school to study neuroscience and do research, I was warned that academia is not easy. That it was competitive, and I wouldn’t have the energy to compete with people who are at least a couple of decades younger than me. I had made my decision, however, and I moved forward. Things started fast. I had to adapt quickly. First, I had to change my habits. Taking notes on a paper was acceptable during my first degree when teachers were still writing on a whiteboard. But the same thing did not work with a lecture consisting of 30-40 PowerPoint slides. So I had to change my note-taking habits (and continued improving them till I graduated). At first, I didn’t have any problems with my eyes either. But during one of my final exams, I looked at my scantron sheet, and the scantron sheet looked at me. It was the realization that I started to have Presbyopia, and it was time to get a pair of reading glasses. Then I took a Neurodegeneration and Ageing class. I have to admit, it was disheartening. For every example given about when the decline starts, I had already passed that age, or I wasn’t too far off.


We are indeed losing brain cells and connections as we get older. In my previous post, I shared the results of an amazing study, which shows that we start losing them very early in our lives. But not everything goes downhill. One thing the professor mentioned during the neurodegeneration class stuck with me. We may be losing a pathway to remember something. But we start using alternative pathways to reach the same goal. Maybe the alternative pathways were created because we had more time to make them.


Even though I noticed the decline (it is hard to ignore the need for reading glasses), I held on to my goal. I studied hard. I studied definitely harder than I studied when I was younger. It was not easy. But, I ended up getting the University Medal in Science, which means I finished as the top of the

Faculty of Science. Maybe my fully matured frontal lobe helped, perhaps the alternative pathways. It is hard to know the exact reason, but here I am.


And do we get wiser with age? I am not sure. I don’t consider myself wise or even mature (regardless of my fully matured frontal lobe). But I am more aware of what I want and how to achieve it. I realized I am not as sharp as I used to be when I was younger. I had to focus on one thing at a time and one thing only. It takes longer to do anything—and this time will probably increase as I get older—but I learned to set my priorities with this knowledge. And I have more experience that I can rely on. In a way, I find myself less efficient but more resourceful.


Despite all of the explanations I give, I have to give credit to my family, who has been supporting me greatly. And I cannot tell how grateful I am to meet with many bright young minds with whom I am partnering on this website. These gals made my remaining cells work better. Thank you!


 

Blog by Emine Topcu

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