It’s easy to fixate on everything you’re getting worse at as you age. I’m 48, and trying to remember a phone number long enough to dial it, write under time pressure or sprint after the bus all leave me marvelling – if that’s the word – at my evaporating abilities. Muscle and bone mass decline from your 30s, and midlife can feel like a slippery, baffling slope towards decay (yes, I am fun to be around, thank you for noticing). But are there things even someone as ancient as me can still get better at?
The assumption that ageing is inevitably a process of cognitive and physical decline is one Daniel Levitin, professor of neuroscience at McGill University, sought to challenge in his book The Changing Mind. “Our societal narrative is not based on science – it’s based entirely on prejudice,” he tells me. “Contrary to popular myth, we never stop learning or growing new brain connections.” Hearing this, I’m reminded that my newfound love of birds has furnished me with a shiny new mental library of calls and feather patterns. I’ve also managed, with practice, to improve my terrible sight-singing at choir.