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Home > Culture and Society

Greying Matter

9 September 2005

Great news this week as serious scientists declared that the gradual decay of brain tissue associated with old age is merely a state of mind. Or in other words, you’re only as old as you feel. Sounding more like Heat magazine than anyone you could possibly take seriously, Professor Ian Robertson of Trinity College Dublin told the Evening Standard / Daily Mail that taking exercise, being sociable and reducing stress all help people maintain memory and mental acuity well into their autumn years. However: ‘I think the best advice is really to think young.’ And - let’s not forgot - beautiful. If you want to be loved.

But that’s not all. The Standard headline on Wednesday spelt out the most exciting part of Robertson’s findings: ‘Feel 14 years younger by playing memory game.’ Part scientist, part human spambot, Robertson explains:

‘With just ten seconds of training, we saw an improvement in the cognitive functions equivalent up to 14 years, and on average it took a decade off the cognitive age of volunteers after 10 sessions.’

That’s some memory game. Like a kind of Viagra for the breadbox. Thankfully, not ones to keep joyous news to themselves, the Standard had the good grace to print up the rules to this death-dodging memory game. Here they are: ‘The game works as follows: simply try to memorise a series of words such as bread, couch, carrot, milk, fish, apple, chair, shelf, table.’ There it is. It really is as simple as that. Less complicated than Snakes & Ladders. Less interesting than Dry, Paint, Dry! But sod it, if a professor of Trinity University says it works, then we’re prepared to give it a go. Here then is TFT’s version of the brand new game all the ageing folks are playing. Simply memorise the following words and banish Alzheimer’s for good.











Now close your eyes and reel ‘em off. You might find putting them in categories helps. Done that? Wicked. Your brain is now fourteen years younger. Happy slap the person nearest you to celebrate.

Sneakily, if not sinisterly, Robertson actually included words in some of his lists which carried a subliminal message, which would trigger a certain reaction in his subjects. ‘One study we looked at even exposed people to words such as “old” and “grey” and they actually walked a bit slower when leaving the lab,’ he said. ‘That is how powerful thinking young can be.’

And finally, one more of the pop-prof’s soundbites: ‘The human brain at all ages is plastic.’ No, it isn’t. It’s nerve tissue and axons coated in myelin. What a rank convocation of painfully obvious common sense and pseudo-scientific Tommy rot this whole study really is.

One thing that really is worth remembering. Just because someone happens to be a professor doesn’t mean they aren’t completely full of shit.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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