Youthful Connections

Is parenting good for the grey matter?

 | June 9, 2014

Not so long ago I emptied my daughter’s school ski jacket and pulled out: one loonie, several empty baggies, one sock, a thumbtack, her library card and an “Air Hole” panda sticker.

Just before that, I vacuumed my son for the second time.

Parenting’s etymology might as well be: from the Old English for “unexpected.”

Which makes me wonder what a few decades of besting the unexpected is doing to my brain. Is it changing it, in a fundamental sort of way? In a good way? A bad way?

I think a fascinating Master’s thesis would be an investigation of Alzheimer’s and dementia instances in seniors who have had the experience of parenting versus the rates in those who have not. I’d be surprised by either trend.

For parents, our brains are taxed and addled by sleep deprivation, strained by crying and nagging, and shocked by pretty well everything — from car seat diaper explosions to the myriad of teenaged poor choices. Does all that brain gym make our brains stronger, more resilient, and fitter for our golden years?

Or, conversely, do the bullet holes of shock, endurance and taxation shot through our grey matter leave mortal wounds that can never fully heal?

Does “unexpected” equal ally or foe when it comes to mental acuity?

Research on seniors’ brain health is still as murky as the grey matter itself. There are many studies that suggest staying social and keeping mentally active as the years tick past helps stave off cognitive decline, but there’s not a lot of knowledge as to why that’s the case. Nor are there a lot of indicators (beyond genetics and injuries) that point toward the catalyst to the diseases’ progress.

Maybe trying to figure out the answers will count a few steps toward brain health, just in case the parenting thing is the antecedent at the root of it all.