Those of us who are of a certain age, and sometimes can't quite remember where we put the car keys or why we walked from one room to another, can take cheer from recent discoveries about what even aging brains are capable of doing. Most notably, they're capable of continued learning and development. For a long time it was believed that the brain inevitably shrank and lost function as the years passed. Well, it ain't necessarily so, as what's-his-name, the great lyricist, once wrote. Intellectual stimulation, apparently at any age, encourages the development of new neurons. Lifelong learning isn't just a slogan.
Some of the latest brain research has focused on London's legendary taxi drivers, who are licensed only after they pass a rigorous test that requires years of studying the street geography of their sprawling city. As reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers at University College London used magnetic resonance imaging to compare the brains of 16 male London cabbies with the brains of 50 noncabby males. Their focus was on the posterior hippocampus, which is responsible for how we find our way from here to there. In the taxi drivers, the posterior hippocampus proved to be significantly larger, no doubt having expanded as it faced the need to absorb an infinity of maps for navigating London's maze of streets.
Good news, indeed, for all of us as we grow older. Stimulating, even. Now, where did we put those keys?