Wanting age within the eye: Daniel J. Levitin on how you can dwell properly, not simply longer


The numbers don’t lie.

In 2018, 17.2 per cent of Canadians had been 65 or older. By 2030, in accordance with Statistics Canada, that quantity shall be as much as 23 per cent. There are extra of us, and what’s extra, we’re dwelling longer. However are we dwelling higher? The jury may be very a lot out on that query.

“We have to study to assume extra when it comes to well being span, and fewer when it comes to easy life span,” mentioned part-time Montrealer Daniel J. Levitin. The author, cognitive psychologist, neuroscientist and musician sensed a spot within the literature on the topic and, as he has finished with such bestselling titles as This Is Your Mind on Music and The Organized Mind, he got down to fill it.

“My mother and father are of their 80s and I wished to advocate a ebook for them,” the 62-year-old mentioned final week. “I appeared and appeared, however couldn’t discover one. I spotted that plenty of the brand new neuroscience hadn’t trickled all the way down to the typical particular person, so I learn roughly four,000 peer-reviewed papers, pondering, ‘How would I clarify this to my mother and father?’ ”

The result’s Successful Aging: A Neuroscientist Explores the Power and Potential of Our Lives (Allen Lane, 528 pages, $34), a wide-ranging work that confirms the creator’s aptitude for marshalling voluminous analysis and examined science into an accessible entire — a layered apply during which, in his phrases, “what would possibly look like superficial issues are stand-ins for actually large points.”

“A part of the societal narrative that I need to push again on is that we have a tendency to consider life as comprising these developmental phases — prenatal, infancy, toddlerhood, childhood, adolescence, younger maturity and so forth, and that after some level — 65, 70, no matter — it’s simply decline,” Levitin mentioned. “And that’s not borne out by the analysis.

“(Outdated age) is a definite developmental stage, and as with all different, there are pluses and minuses. So I wished to jot down about what science needed to say concerning the course of getting old and what occurs within the mind, from the womb proper as much as outdated age.”

As for sensible software, mentioned Levitin, “The ebook wasn’t meant as a problem-solving ebook, a ‘what do I do about my aged aunt?’ ebook. What I’m actually involved with is that we begin speaking about and making ready for (outdated age) sooner.”

An enormous a part of that, he harassed, has to do with making the suitable resolution, every time attainable, about the place you reside: the widespread need to retire to a rural or exurban setting, for instance, comes with problems. In Profitable Growing older, a three-part catchphrase — ice cream, lunch and light-weight bulbs — serves as a approach into the concept.

“If you wish to simply stroll down the road and get an ice cream and be surrounded by individuals, are you dwelling in a approach that means that you can be spontaneous?” Levitin mentioned. “Are you in a spot socially and geographically the place you may have a standing (weekly) lunch with somebody? As for the sunshine bulb, are you actually going to climb a ladder to exchange it, or is there somebody who may also help you?”


Daniel J. Levitin, the James McGill Professor Emeritus of behavioural neuroscience at McGill College, shows his knack for making probably daunting analysis accessible in Profitable Growing older: A Neuroscientist Explores the Energy and Potential of Our Lives.

John Mahoney /

Montreal Gazette

One other in style notion Levitin wish to assist dispel is the concept individuals want much less sleep as they become older. 

“After we’re youthful, as with different issues, we could be considerably cavalier about sleep,” he mentioned. “However as we become older some bodily methods grow to be much less environment friendly, and one of many issues that declines is the power of your organic clock to reset itself. Sleep hygiene is the concept you need to take care of and have a tendency to your sleep cycle by going to mattress on the similar time and waking up on the similar time every single day, insofar as attainable. Older individuals are likely to get much less sleep, however they want eight or 9 hours identical to the remainder of us. Many instances of Alzheimer’s are misdiagnosed instances of sleep deprivation.”

For all of the rising unease about attainable long-term results of on-line tradition, the digital realm is undeniably the place we’re having increasingly of our interactions — a scenario Levitin is at pains to warn towards.

“I like that within the three minutes each morning I allocate to Fb I can rapidly compensate for people who find themselves removed from me,” he mentioned. “Nevertheless it’s not an alternative choice to face-to-face dialog. We’ve been offered a scarcity of nuance within the title of effectivity, however in the long term it’s much less environment friendly, as a result of nuance contributes to effectivity.”


Montreal science author Susan Pinker decries the relative lack of “third areas” — locations aside from house and the office the place individuals can collect — that cater to the aged.

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One other distinguished Montreal science author, Susan Pinker handled the topic above in her 2015 ebook The Village Impact: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us More healthy and Happier. She mentioned final week that her subsequent analysis — “following my nostril,” she referred to as it — has underlined her findings.

“The analysis has continued to point that in-person social interplay has a distinct affect on our brains and our bodies than digital interplay,” mentioned Pinker, 62. Though she harassed that one must be cautious on the subject of anti-digital jeremiads.

“I’ve discovered that there’s no wrath fairly just like the wrath of a grandparent who’s been instructed that Skype isn’t pretty much as good as the actual factor,” she mentioned. “Don’t attempt to inform somebody that seeing her grandchild’s face on a display screen is a foul factor.”

The rising recognition of the necessity to stability out the atomizing results of the web — briefly, to get out extra — is usually a problem for many who are extra inclined towards solitude and introspection.

“You possibly can’t simply will your self out of that,” Levitin acknowledged. “However for a lot of adults, after a sure age neurochemical shifts trigger them to be extra outgoing. Grandparents do have a tendency to speak and talk greater than mother and father, and it’s the micro-connections which might be essential — speaking to your postal service, to the particular person subsequent in line on the checkout counter on the grocery retailer. It brings you out of loneliness.

“However I’d add a distinction that I perhaps didn’t make sufficient of within the ebook — that loneliness and solitude usually are not the identical. Some individuals take pleasure in solitude and don’t really feel lonely; different individuals are lonely in a crowded room. Loneliness is the killer, not solitude. I write about Sonny Rollins, Donald Fagen, Malcolm Gladwell — individuals who actually appear to take pleasure in their solitude. I see Gladwell in New York Metropolis having lunch alone. I’ve by no means seen him lunching with somebody.”

The necessity for what Pinker identifies as “third areas” — locations aside from house and the office the place individuals can collect to fulfill a pure longing for human contact — is more and more evident.

“In case your municipality doesn’t create them, then individuals will discover them,” Pinker mentioned. “Tim’s (Tim Hortons) is a superb Canadian instance of that.”

The relative paucity of such locations is an instance of one thing Pinker decries with regard to the aged: a irritating hole between want and repair. 

“I’d like to see extra coverage efforts directed at the truth that we live longer, and people who find themselves dwelling longer need to dwell properly,” she mentioned. “Considered one of my greatest bugaboos about among the cultural scenes right here is that they’re not accessible to the seniors who would like to take part. My mother loves classical music, however my dad has handed away and he or she’s having mobility points, so she’s not going to go by herself. But when the orchestra, say, convened a gaggle of seniors and gave them deal on tickets, and had live shows for them, probably in the course of the day when it’s simpler for them to get out, they’d get an enormous variety of subscribers. I don’t assume they see it that approach. They’re upset that their market is greying, versus saying, ‘That’s what our market is, let’s go get them.’ ”


“The ebook wasn’t meant as a problem-solving ebook, a ‘what do I do about my aged aunt?’ ebook,” Daniel J. Levitin says of Profitable Growing older. “What I’m actually involved with is that we begin speaking about and making ready for (outdated age) sooner.”

John Mahoney /

Montreal Gazette

In a lot of the speak round age, the elephant within the room is the necessity to overcome deep-rooted cultural ageism. Progress is being made, but it surely’s an ongoing battle.

“It’s an enormous battle,” Levitin concurred. “Even inside the neuroscience group it’s not talked about. When you consider all the completely different isms or prejudices that face society, whether or not it’s sexism, racism, prejudice towards LGBTQ individuals … all of those are removed from solved, however at the very least they’re a part of the nationwide dialog. They’re on the desk. Ageism will not be. In the event you’re 60, 62, 65, it’s nearly inconceivable to get a promotion, very very troublesome to maneuver into a brand new firm. Even within the arts, I’ve seen musicians and artists denied the alternatives youthful individuals would get, for causes having nothing to do with expertise.”

One other query that wants addressing includes the rising existential disaster posed by local weather change: Can now we have increasingly individuals staying energetic for longer and longer with out overtaxing an surroundings already at disaster level? Levitin believes we are able to.

“It appears to me that in case you’ve received extra individuals working and contributing to the economic system, moderately than drawing on a strained social insurance coverage system, that’s factor,” he mentioned. “And in case you’ve received extra older individuals with expertise and knowledge serving to youthful adults remedy issues — knowledge being the mixture of experiences, and older adults being a lot better at drawback fixing — that’s factor, too.”

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Associated


Margaret Atwood in Montreal in 2012: on the centre of our tradition for longer than some other author.

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Montreal Gazette information

Masters of time

There isn’t a present scarcity of people that have remained important cultural presences far previous the age when earlier eras might need seen them step politely apart. Listed below are six of them.

Paul Simon

Anybody who witnessed Simon’s remarkable 2018 concert at the Bell Centre — 2 half hours of high-intensity efficiency, together with a spot of vigorous Cajun two-step dancing — needed to be impressed at his protean vitality and dedication to his artwork. “I’ve identified him for a few years,” mentioned Levitin. “He mentioned he determined (round) age 60, beginning with the You’re the One album (in 2000), to lift his sport and hone his craft to a brand new stage.” Not unhealthy for somebody who’d been no slouch via age 59. (See additionally: Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Paul McCartney, Elton John.)

The Dalai Lama

His Holiness made a deep impression on Levitin when the author visited him in India final yr. “He was 83 and he had simply revealed his 125th ebook,” Levitin mentioned. “He’s a really comfortable man — a little bit of a prankster. He instructed me, ‘The factor I’ve found about being 83 is that once you inform individuals you don’t need to journey, they are saying OK.’ ”

Margaret Atwood

The exceptional ongoing affect of The Handmaid’s Story has underlined one thing we could typically take as a right: Atwood has been on the centre of our tradition for longer than some other author. At 80 she exhibits no signal of slowing down, and of all of the reward we are able to bestow on her, there’s none extra telling than the truth that now we have no actual concept what she would possibly do subsequent.


Paul Simon showcased an plain vitality and dedication to his artwork on the Bell Centre in 2018.

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Montreal Gazette information

Charles Taylor

The acclaimed and influential 88-year-old thinker is Susan Pinker’s nomination for this checklist. “All people has their very own approach of being human, one thing we every have to search out in our personal approach,” he told the Montreal Gazette in 2018. “That’s one thing that must be articulated, and you discover you’re lacking one thing in case you’re not going exterior the standard goal components and quantifiable issues.”

Larry David

Hailed as a mode icon on the quilt of the February issue of GQ magazine, David was already one thing of a late bloomer when he got here to prominence as co-creator of Seinfeld. Now 72 and nonetheless very a lot seen because the face of Curb Your Enthusiasm, David discovered his area of interest by acknowledging — certainly, embracing and celebrating — his interior curmudgeon. Happiness is the place you discover it.

Sheila Fischman

The doyenne of Canadian literary translation stays on the job at 82, rendering Quebec writers like Kim Thúy accessible to English-language readers simply as she did for the primary wave of recent Québécois writers within the 1960s, and for each technology since.