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Silver Threads: Senior smarts

Bettye Anding

Bettye Anding

I wish today’s technological generation would come up with some new words to describe the things they’ve developed.

That would make it unnecessary for an old person like me to spend time wondering where exactly is the “cloud” upon which reposes most of the books I’ve ordered over the years on my e-reader. Is it a cumulus cloud, a thunderhead or what -- the "what" signifying how much attention I paid to the teacher who addressed geophysical subjects when I was in middle school.

And this morning’s newspaper carried a story about the European Space Agency’s proposal to build a colony on the moon. Apparently, it could be built on the site by a “robotic 3-D printer using lunar dust as ink.” Accompanying the story is a photo of an astronaut holding up a wrench, the first tool to be 3-D printed in space.

I can only assume that “printing” on the moon isn’t the same thing it was when I was young. Rolling ink over type -- metal letters and sentences produced on a linotype; placing a paper on top of them and using another roller to press the words onto the page was the kind of “printing” I grew up with.

Well, not entirely. The process had become mechanized by the time I was born and then went to work for a newspaper, eventually moving to computers. And, come to think of i, they still called it printing. I wonder if Benjamin Franklin would have been confused? Probably not; he had a high I.Q.

That got me to looking up “old age and I.Q.” on the Internet, and here’s what I came up with on the ability of seniors to learn and to use knowledge they already have:

“Psychologists use two major terms to identify different forms of intelligence. Fluid intelligence is tied to biology and deals with an individual's ability to make on-the-spot decisions that are not dependent on experience. Crystallized intelligence is the amount of information a person has absorbed and accumulated from a society's culture over time.”

(This info came from a website citing studies at the University of West Virginia, and I’m careful to tell you this because I read that some federal agency people have gotten a bad rep for not doing the same on documents they’ve prepared. We former journalists know better. Well, most of us.)

"Most research shows that crystallized abilities remain pretty high in old age, but that fluid abilities decline …. however, as we age, the two become more integrated, so that older adults can still perform well, especially in an area in which they are interested and/or an expert. Being able to use information to solve problems or make decisions is one of those skills that draws from both fluid and crystallized intelligence.”

At Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, students performed 34% faster than adults on tests requiring motor speed, often a major contributor to the age difference in general level of performance. ("The poorer performance by older adults may be characterized by a loss of efficiency in visual search," stated the researcher.)

That’s why we seniors, aware that our brains still are topnotch, often admit that our reflexes aren’t what they used to be.

My 19-year-old grandson did a pretty good job of explaining the fluid side of I.Q. to me yesterday when I asked, but when he got to neurons, I spaced out. I figured he’d probably go overboard in his excitement about the subject, tell me much more than I really want to know, and would I get it and would it stick? He did, and it’s stuck so far, but for how much longer I don’t know.

He did clear up the “cloud” (pun intended) for me though. I guess calling it that is cuter than “storage facility.”

Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at [email protected]