I got an e-mail blast from my doctor this morning, featuring this article. Here's my take:
From forgetting what they did last week to overspending on home theater equipment they can't properly configure, adults are sometimes enigmas to their children. Nancy Brown, Ph.D., a health educator and aging expert at PAMF, discusses one of teens' top questions: Why do my parents behave the way they do?
Teenagers often wonder what makes parents undertake their daily routines with such neuroticism. Some parents are liberal enough to let teenagers have space to learn and grow, others act out their own bitter regrets by imposing unrealistic and unenforceable restrictions on sexual behavior or time away from the family home. Understanding adult behavior requires an understanding of the aging mind and how it deteriorates.
We're only beginning to understand the aging of the human brain, but we now challenge previous notions that brains can stay healthy without regular exposure to novelty. Brain atrophy effects most people over 30. And some areas of the brain, particularly the neocortex -- the part of the brain responsible for learning in a changing world -- begin to decline well before other areas, such as the amygdala, which is the 'gut instinct' part of the brain.
Yes. Some days adults may act their age and other days, they may act more like your grandparents. This is because the neocortex is starting to atrophy. Therefore, adults rely more on the amygdala, the part of the brain that causes them to reclusively hoard wealth and send poorer people's children off to die in wars.
The brain of a 32-64 year-old is going through levels of change far lower than the brain of a younger person. It will synthesize less ATP during this period than during the first 30 years of life, and deep, dreamful sleep becomes increasingly difficult, resulting in chronically elevated cortisol levels. Eventually, your parents will require almost around-the-clock care, so enjoy your time with them now as much as possible.
If you recognize that most adults aren't observantly, and that this behavior does not reflect a lack of caring, it will be easier to be patient and use these situations as an opportunity to provide character education. For example, try to remind them how full of wonder the world is, and try to help them understand that you appear not to be paying attention because they're increasingly forgetting which things they've already told you. Offer practical advice, such as the use of checklists.
But while patience and understanding are important, we should also not make excuses for our parents. They still need to keep their weight down and save for their retirement, so they don't become a burden on society. We can provide the most support by modeling the wonder and intensity with which we hold the future.