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A History Lesson, A Baby Boomers’ Perspective

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 Brain Health Expert: Patricia Faust

It has occurred to me that recent events deserve a response.

First and foremost, I am a gerontologist. Gerontology is the study of aging and trust me, the field is extensive. I chose to specialize in brain aging and brain health because I wanted to teach boomers specifically how to take care of their brains and prevent Alzheimer’s. But this article, a history lesson of sorts, is going to look at the effect of the life course. We will look at our experiences and how they shape our lives now, history, and consequences of choices.

“We would find out about events as they were happening, not the next day.”

A Hard Time For Me:

I am now 71. It is hard for me to believe that all these years have gone by so fast. When I was in my fifties I went back to school and studied gerontology. My class was a small group of very smart young women who were going to make a difference in the field of aging.

They were enamored by my generational placement of being a boomer. First, we had no technology to use to communicate. Phones were landlines and if you were out and had to call home, you had to find a telephone booth!

But that brings me to the point that communication was much slower back then. I remember sitting in class when I was in the eighth grade and the discussion was about how communication in the future was going to be lightning speed and that would change the world. We would find out about events as they were happening, not the next day. It was hard for me to comprehend at the time, but I remember that every day now when I see continual breaking news. 

Defining Generation:

Music made a significant impact in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Peace, love, and rock and roll ruled the time. I graduated from high school the year that the Woodstock Music Festival made history. There were 500,000 hippies on Yazger’s farm in upstate New York. The Beatles showed the world how powerful music was in defining a generation.

“The music of ‘our time’ still helps us find our place in ‘this time’.”

Protest songs, the entrance of hard rock, and music with the power to elicit strong emotions shaped our reactions to current events. The music of ‘our time’ still helps us find our place in ‘this time’.

Then there was the social upheaval. We had a President assassinated – John F. Kennedy (Nov. 23, 1963), followed by Dr. Martin Luther King (April 4, 1968), and then Robert Kennedy, brother of John Kennedy, (June 6, 1968). You could hardly catch your breath before another assassination happened. It was devastating for the country. 

Violent Time In History:

The Civil Rights era gained steam. It was a violent time in history. The divide between black and white was stark. The first photos of a petite little black girl going to an all-white school in Alabama surrounded by guards was powerful. It underscored how difficult it would be to integrate schools throughout the country.  

The Women’s Rights Movement of the 60’s and 70’s sought equal rights, opportunities, and greater personal freedom for women. You had to be courageous to be on the front lines of the Women’s Movement. Feminism was ridiculed to the point that it was equated with being a man-hater.  Many men ridiculed feminists and the role they were playing working on giving us some freedom to be what we wanted to be.

The prime careers for young women were teacher, nurse, or secretary. We weren’t that far displaced from being a housewife and our place was in the home.  

“This was the world that shaped my life.”

Tensions Created:

And then there was the Vietnam War. I was a freshman in college when the war was escalating. The shooting of protestors at Kent State University by the National Guard put everyone on notice that our daily lives were going to change.

Then there was the invasion into Cambodia. I remember sitting in a lecture hall for a Chemistry class, and a group of student protestors came in and demanded that we strike our classes. Tensions were super-charged there every day. Finally, bomb threats shut the University down. It was a violent, politically charged time.

This was the world that shaped my life. The Vietnam War impressed on us that the government was not our friend. It caused huge distrust among younger Americans. There was a significant hard-fought leap forward at that time for individual rights and for women’s rights. It was the starting point for women to excel in whatever they wanted.  

Truth From Untruth:

So why am I giving you this history lesson? First, the state of communication in today’s world: We know about anything that is happening at the time it occurs. But the constant chatter of disinformation has created a divide in America. When our brain hears something continuously and repetitively it bypasses our cerebral cortex where the executive function center resides.

“When people can’t recognize truth from untruth, we have a crisis of faith in what we hear and choose to believe.”

This is the decision-making part of the brain. Instead, the communication goes right to the subconscious part of the brain and is adopted as truth. When people can’t recognize truth from untruth, we have a crisis of faith in what we hear and choose to believe.

Women’s Rights:

Individual rights and women’s rights are at risk now. After learning and experiencing what women went through over the 19th and 20th centuries to make our lives better, I am crushed to see what is being taken away. It makes me sad that the young women of today must take up the cause of Women’s Rights again to try to find equity in the workplace, equity in healthcare, and support for the caregiving roles in their lives, whether it is for their children or their parents.

Wisdom, Is It Too Slow?

I speak about wisdom being the means that we stay relevant as we get older. Again, I have found that wisdom is viewed as being ‘too slow’. Because technology has reached the point where you can access advice in a nanosecond and the belief that it is current information to use, wisdom from life experience is viewed as not relevant.

These days, lessons learned are lost in today’s world. I am hopeful that brilliant young people can pull us out of the domestic and global mess we find ourselves in. And I pray that their actions make this a better place for all ages. Wouldn’t it be great to get a new history lesson?

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About the Author:

Patricia Faust is a gerontologist specializing in the issues of brain aging, brain health, brain function and dementia. She has a Masters in Gerontological Studies degree from Miami University in Oxford Ohio. Patricia is certified as a brain health coach and received a certification in Neuroscience and Wellness through Dr. Sarah McKay and the Neuroscience Academy. My Boomer Brain, founded in 2015, is the vehicle that Patricia utilizes to teach, coach and consult about brain aging, brain health and brain function. Her newsletter, My Boomer Brain, has international readers from South Africa, Australia, throughout Europe and Canada. She has also been a frequent guest on Medicare Moment on WMKV and Cincy Lifestyles on WCPO.