Mental acuity

Amal Chatterjee
10 min readJun 24, 2022

Source: Google photo of a thinking man

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Synopsis: Old age does not mean that a person loses his mental acuity. It remains intact in many people, but they do deserve to be recognized, loved and cared for.

As we age, we notice that we lose some of our mental acuity in the process of ageing. We forget what day it is, what time of the day it is or whether or not we took our prescribed medicine for the day. We forget the names of people we had known in the past or the dates of important events in our life.

This happens to most people if not all that is a natural process. It makes people lose their mental acuity that is supposed to keep our brain sharp all the time. While it affects most people, there are many old people who retain this acuity until they die so how do they do it?

Some old people have done their best work at an age when others start babbling like children because they never lost their mental acuity. Their brain remains as sharp as the edge of a razor blade. They instantly recall scientific details of the papers they had written and published long ago. They remember complicated mathematical formulae or complex details of chemistry. They put forth new scientific ideas at an age when they are supposed to be old and senile, but they prove that they are far from it.

Leo Tolstoy wrote War and Peace at an age when most old people cannot think beyond their present medical needs or the morning cup of tea. Pablo Picasso made his masterpiece paintings that sold for millions when he was very old not to mention a virile old man. Once he was having dinner with his friends in a restaurant where he was served a fish that he ate with relish and kept the fish bones intact and clean so his friends wondered what he will do with it. He then got some molding clay that he pasted on the side of his plate and made a deep impression of the fish bones on it. His artistic mind had no limits to its imaginative power. His mental acuity was at its peak even then that made him create a piece of art just with his fish bones.

Some of the greatest scientists, artists, writers, film makers, philosophers, teachers, sculptors, violin makers, performing artists, singers, mathematicians and others did their best work when they were old because they reached their pinnacle using all the knowledge, they had acquired in their lifetime and put it to create their masterpieces.

The loss of mental acuity is a process where the brain gradually starts to lose the ability to remember with the age in most people that leads to forgetfulness. Most governments have a mandatory age of retirement of 65 in most countries because they think that such people are no longer able to fulfill their duties or obligations in the most efficient way, so they recruit young people to replace them. But many old people after their retirement do remain alert and are able to function well so the Japanese companies value them and their lifelong experience, so their employment is extended.

Similarly, many retired medical doctors remain very good doctors and treat their patients with their rich experience of a lifetime and are known for their excellent diagnostic skills that can only come from experience. Compare them with young doctors who have no diagnostic skills or experience, so they search in google the remedies for illnesses or say that they have no knowledge of the disease of their patients so order numerous laboratory tests to find out what is wrong.

One doctor in the United States refused the medicine to his patient who had malaria and told his doctor that it is quinine that he needed to get well but his doctor did not know what malaria was and did not believe that his patient knew better than him. The result was tragic when the patient died of a curable disease just because the doctor was ignorant but self-righteous. I would call such doctors idiots.

The degeneration of the mental process that turns a human being into a vegetable state starts when the neurons in the brain do not connect to other neurons anymore or fail to make new connections, but it is proven that such decline can be stopped or slowed down if the person keeps alert and uses his brain to read, absorb, analyze and draw conclusions from it that are valid. I can understand that some old people cannot read as much because of their poor eyesight but now there are computer programs that can read for you in any language.

Now using the computer anyone can connect with his colleagues, friends or associates anywhere in the world to exchange ideas or discuss issues that are important to them. There are very senior doctors who can see online a surgery being performed on a patient in another part of the world and notice if the procedure is correct or not and give valuable advice to save the life of a patient such is the power of the technology now.

But millions of people who are over 70 and retired have no access to fancy computer technology or smart phones because of poverty. Many old people have never learned to type so one can understand their difficulties in using a keyboard or in understanding how a computer works. So how can they retain their mental acuity? They may have difficulty in reading due to their poor eye sights. So, some people play chess or do crossword puzzles. Others who can still read depend on reading the scriptures that give them mental peace.

Another way is to engage them in topics they are passionate about and have great expertise on that someone can learn from.

World famous British scientist Stephen Hawking gives a lecture at the Bloomfield Museum of Science in Jerusalem on December 10, 2006. Hawking, the wheelchair-bound British physicist whose book “A Brief History Of Time” became an international best-seller, is “very ill” in hospital, Cambridge University said on April 20, 2009. Hawking, 67, achieved worldwide fame for his research, writing and television documentaries despite suffering from a form of motor neuron disease that left him disabled and dependent on a voice synthesizer to communicate. AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA (Photo credit should read MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP via Getty Images)

A severely physically disabled scientists like Stephen Hawking wrote his scientific treaties using the computer technology that won him worldwide acclaim before died in England. He could not speak or move his limbs, but his brain remained at the peak of its efficiency because his mental acuity remained intact.

So I think that more you use your brain, the sharper it becomes like honing a rusty blade. The use of the brain helps remove the rust so the brain starts to wake up to its former glory, but it is not as easy as it sounds. A renowned scientist like Stephen Hawking had all the technology at his disposal. People who recognized the quality of his thinking process made sure that he had the latest technology to write what he was thinking. Not all old people are so lucky. They may still have a lot to offer the world, but their ability must be recognized and honored.

They become dependent on their relatives at a certain age who do not provide them with facilities to keep them active. The physical exercise helps a person stay fit but keeping mental acuity strong requires help as well. They need the love and care they deserve from the people around them. Chess players are known for their tremendous mental acuity at any age because they remember the moves, the strategy and their mistakes to improve their games. Serious thinking helps rejuvenate the brain by pumping new energy into it. I was told that meditation can help you focus sharply on a subject in your mind that can make you remember.

I used to draw and paint when I was young in Algeria a long time ago. When my lovely daughter saw the photos of my paintings, she sent me a very expensive watercolor set, brushes and high-quality art paper from Australia so that I could start painting again. She sent me a Kindle where I can download any book, I want from Amazon to read so I read Mein Kamph by Hitler that I could not afford to buy from a bookstore.

Nicola Tesla was a genius but all his handwritten notes, sketches and drawings that could change the world was taken away and secretly stashed away by the US government because his scientific ideas were so revolutionary that the Capitalists got scared. They withdrew all their support for him so he could not get any backer of his ideas. He deserved 10 Nobel Prize, but he died in a derelict New York hotel room in dire poverty with no one near him.

Source: Google photo of Nicola Tesla in his old age.

His brain remained as sharp as ever, but he was neglected and was not given the honor and acclaim he richly deserved because of the politics of capitalism.

Source: Google photo of Rudolf Diesel

GERMANY — JUNE 06: In 1892 Rudolf Diesel (1858–1913) patented a design for a new type of internal combustion engine. In 1897 he produced a 25 horsepower, four-stroke, single vertical cylinder compression engine, the high efficiency of which, together with its comparative simplicity of design, made it an immediate commercial success. Subsequent royalty fees brought great wealth to its inventor. He was lost overboard from the mail steamer ‘Dresden’ during a trip to London in 1913 and was assumed to have drowned. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)

Rudolf Diesel was another genius who invented the engine that drives the whole world, but he fared better than Tesla because his invention became a commercial success. There are many such examples.

I strongly feel for the people who are old but still have a lot to offer the world but are ignored just because they are old. No one understands their frustrations in not being recognized for their brilliance anymore, so they become introverts and shy away from people to retain their dignity. Many smart people like Nicola Tesla and Rudolf Diesel were sidelined by those who saw them as threats to their politico economic systems. Diesel proved them wrong but did not live to enjoy his success.

Many smart people are not promoted in their careers by those who are afraid of their brilliance that could outshine them. We have all heard of the professional jealousies among the scientists and professional career men and women who try to suppress people smarter than them. You all have seen this jealousy in college or in high school where a smart student is mocked by those who are not so smart out of jealousy. It stays with them even in their old age. Women are known to be vicious and nasty to others who are prettier and smarter than them, but a smart person always shines. A diamond always glitters even when mixed with ordinary pebbles.

So pay respect to old people who are still brilliant and who can teach you a lot of things in life. Show them that you value their tremendous knowledge and experience and make an effort to let others know about them. Give them the acclaim they so richly deserve.

One day you will be old and feel the same way they feel when they are neglected. In the meantime, try to keep your brain sharp through readings and discussions, through writings and engaging in productive works.

So if you have old parents or grandparents, share your love with them and talk to them because you will never know how great they were when young and how much they have achieved in their lifetime because such people are naturally self-effacing. They will share their rich experience in life only if you ask them and value them.

Ask them to write it all down in a biography that you can help write, print and keep it safe for the next generation. Nothing is worse than letting the old people leave this world with all their knowledge and rich experience that no one knew about or failed to share with others. If Nicola Tesla had lived in any other country where people valued his genius, we would be living in a very different world enriched by his knowledge.

Remember that just because people get old, it does not mean that they become useless. They just need your love, care and support. I do not mean supporting them with money or gifts but just showing that you care for them and love them will bring back the glint in their old eyes again.

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Originally published at on June 24, 2022.