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J Can Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2010 November; 19(4): 317–318.
PMCID: PMC2962548

The Healthy Aging Brain: Sustaining Attachment, Attaining Wisdom

Reviewed by Elsa Broder, MD

The Healthy Aging Brain: Sustaining Attachment, Attaining Wisdom.
Louis Cozolino .  W.W. Norton & Company,  New York, NY,  2008.  380 pages.  $29.95 (US), hardcover. 

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This is the third book by Louis Cozolino that I have had the privilege to read and review. Each is golden in its own way and focuses on a different aspect of human brain development and function. The first book was on the neuroscience of relationships, the second was on the neuroscience of psychotherapy, and now this one is on the healthy aging brain.

I am at an age where aging is an issue. With my family history of Alzheimer’s comes a desire to avoid that disease myself, to keep my wits and live my life to the fullest. We now know more than ever about the function of the brain and many of our past beliefs have proven to be inaccurate. This is an optimistic book. Dr. Cozolini writes that the brain is more plastic than has been thought before, and it continues to grow and change throughout our lives. Although this is not a “how to” book, there are some things described on these pages about what we can do to facilitate the continued health of our brains and avoid cognitive deterioration. The bottom line is that our brain is social, so that all we can do to support social functioning is worthwhile and facilitates brain adaptation and change. Some aspects of brain function inevitably decline, while others stay the same or improve with age. We now know that neurons continue to grow throughout life, particularly in the frontal lobes and its interconnections. A rule of thumb posited in this book is that the more complexity in one’s life, the better the function of one’s brain.

This book is divided into four sections with fourteen chapters. The first section reviews the growth of the brain and its grounding in social interaction. In the second section, Cozolino gives an overview of the social aspects of brain development across the life span reviewing current theories of the aging brain and neuroplasticity. In the third section, there is a fascinating discussion of the attainment and growth of wisdom that has usually been associated with aging. In the four chapters of this section, the author explicates insight, self-awareness and compassion to inform our understanding of the life history of the brain and the factors that support the emergence of wisdom—a function which is often hard to define. His list of ten wise people chosen by undergrads is fascinating, ranging from Ghandi to Oprah Winfrey. The author goes on to set out the attributes of wisdom, defined as getting to know and to be comfortable with oneself, having good judgement, giving to others and living life to the fullest.

Although this is not specifically a “how to” book, in the fourth section Cozolino writes about the ways in which one can care for oneself as one ages, nurturing the body and relationships, giving an importance to grand-parenting, challenging oneself, and living life to the fullest extent that one can. He suggests that it is important to review one’s life, constructing stories that speak to losses that one must face as one gets older, with the integration of what one has accomplished in life.

In the appendix, Dr. Cozolino provides a list of fifty-two things that one can do to stay vital—all good suggestions, and full of wisdom.

I appreciated Dr. Cozolino’s two previous books and I would recommend this book as well; not only to understand the brain and how it functions, but also because of the wisdom contained in it. We all are living longer and it is to everyone’s advantage to live life to the fullest, to enjoy life and to share it with others.

Articles from Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry are provided here courtesy of Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry