Grandma’s wisdom a great gift

By Michele Parente, The San Diego Union-Tribune

The old adage “with age comes wisdom” isn’t just a warm and fuzzy way to look at the aging process — it’s a biological function that could provide clues to behavior, brain function and even human evolution itself, according to a top researcher at UC San Diego.

In a presentation Friday as part of the university’s Think Tank on Healthy Aging, Dr. Dilip Jeste said wisdom isn’t synonymous with intelligence, it’s the ability to draw on life experiences to regulate emotions, show compassion and make measured decisions, among other traits.

The value of wisdom has been studied through the millennia, Jeste said, but it’s only in recent years that researchers are recognizing it as a complex, uniquely human characteristic linked to advanced cognitive and emotional development.

“Wisdom does not automatically increase with age, but social reasoning seems to improve with age, despite perhaps some decline in fluid intelligence,” or cognitive decline, said Jeste, senior associate dean for healthy aging and senior care at University of California San Diego.

Wisdom’s neuro-connectivity has been traced to research dealing with brain damage and dementia and also may explain why humans age longer than other species, even past reproductive years and despite physical decline.

“You don’t see old lions or tigers in the wild, only at zoos where they are protected,” Jeste said. “We aren’t protected.”

The most significant evolutionary role of wisdom in modern human society may be linked to the “Grandma Hypothesis ... (where the) involvement of grandparents in upbringing was associated with fewer emotional problems, fewer adjustment difficulties, and more pro-social behaviors among grandchildren,” Jeste said.

Jeste is chairman of the Think Tank, launched in November 2014, that brought together a high-caliber group of about 25 physicians, researchers and planning experts to develop national recommendations to improve health care, housing, technology and quality of life for the approximately 80 million Americans who are 55 years or older.

The Think Tank was initially conceived as a two-year project, but its members have decided to continue its work indefinitely, Jeste said, adding that a report on Age-Friendly communities is forthcoming.

Dr. Dan Blazer, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University and co-chairman of the UC San Diego Think Tank, said wisdom has beneficial practical applications in the lives of older adults, such as having the capability to recognize — and alter behavior — with, say, a decline in response time when driving or crossing the street.

“Wisdom is really reflecting on one’s capabilities and being to able to adapt to those capabilities,” he said.

“My cousin is a great example. She’s 92 years old and realized she needed to give up driving, so she did. She sold her car ... takes taxis and created a network” for getting around,” he said.

“She was wise enough to realize when to do that rather having a son or daughter say, ‘Look you’ve have three wrecks, maybe you need to give up driving.’”

Read the article: Parente, M. (2015, December 19). Grandma's wisdom a great gift. The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Photo courtesy of Thinkstockphotos.com


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