For a journalist with close to 30 years experience in the trenches, writing features about everything from canoeing the Nahanni River – on the border of the Yukon and Northwest Territories — to Nanasivik, the coldest mine on earth – on Baffin Island; try visiting in winter! — to the Harvard Business School, MIT and many other seats of higher learning. To Jamaica — I interviewed Michael Manley — then at sea with Paul Watson (Sea Shepherd Society saviour of whales), then off to the rain forests of Costa Rica, and dropping by helicopter onto an offshore oil rig after the Ocean Ranger went down…Quebec politics and feminism (special interests), sports (I played hockey on a boy’s team when I was a kid) and delving into the toughest topic of all: child sexual abuse. My book OUR LITTLE SECRET grew out of cases I wrote about for the Toronto Star…..politicians, business leaders, local heroes, the struggles of people, giving a voice to people who felt they had no voice, contributing to the shaping of public opinion….it was a very rich and meaningful life.
Then I won the Atkinson Fellowship in Public Policy, which is supported by the Toronto Star and the Honderich family. As part of the package I received one entire year to focus on my topic: aging, the best places in the world to grow old (and why), and….lo and behold… brain plasticity. I went to Paris, Copenhagen and Stockholm – a thrill to experience the great Swedish culture that leads the world in terms of equality between men and women and care for children and elders. Miraculous to see the joyful atmosphere at Scandinavian nursing homes, the sense of fun, the dancing and drinking — not allowed in Ontario. And in Paris, to talk to the gerontologist who had known Jeanne Calment, the longest lived person in the world. Born in Provence, she rode her bike until she was 100 years old, attributed her longevity to red wine and olive oil, and died at the age of 122. (I still ride my bike and sometimes wonder when I will have to stop.)
But it was back in Toronto, at Baycrest, formerly the Jewish Old Folks Home, where I encountered a unique centre focused on innovations in aging. A world leader in brain research and brain health, Baycrest has assembled an astoundinglygifted team of scientists, many of whom taught me about the latest discoveries in neuroscience, sharing programs they developed to help people improve memory and cognition.
I learned a few simple things: stop multi-tasking, do one thing at a time, develop discipline and structure in daily life – a place for keys, glasses, purse, stop to “encode” important moments and actions – that will come in handy when I really need them, when I become more vulnerable. (We can never imagine that we, ourselves, will become frail.)
But the BIG revelation truly was and is brain plasticity. We CAN rewire the brain at any age. We can engage in self-directed brain plasticity through mind training. WHAT WE THINK AND HOW WE THINK ACTUALLY CHANGES THE STRUCTURE OF THE BRAIN. Think about it. AS THE MIND CHANGES, THE BRAIN CHANGES. AS THE BRAIN CHANGES, THE MIND CHANGES. And as I have developed my right brain, in my guided practice, I have become a different person, more balanced. I FEEL THE DIFFERENCE, in my body. I can trust my newly activated right brain to keep me on an even keel, though of course I’m only human, I’m not perfect, I get triggered, I suffer, I struggle etc.
But it’s a new way of being. I encourage you to experience it.
See more about Baycrest at: http://www.baycrest.org/about/our-story/#sthash.vHEVgIpk.dpuf