23 October 2014

Nobel Prize winners aren't all young geniuses

Older people tend to make the media either because they look younger and more glamorous than their peers (think Helen Mirrin, Diana Keaton or Catherine Deneuve) or because they've accomplished some physical feat not usually associated with people their age (remember Cliff Young, the ultra-marathon runner?)

Rita Levi-Montalcini in 2009
Photo: Prezidenza della Repubblica
As someone who is neither glamorous nor athletic, I'd like to hear more about the achievements of those who continue their intellectual or social pursuits as they get older. Take, for instance, Rita Levi-Montalcini (1909 - 2012), who received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1986 for her work on nerve growth factor. 

Although the research into growth factor was carried out in the 1950's, Rita Levi-Montalcini was still active in science and politics at the time she received the award at the age of 77. She continued to be involved when she was 100 years old. (She apparently attributed her longevity to "No food, no husband and no regrets.")

Levi-Montalcini was not the only Nobel Prize laureate to have been awarded the prize at a good age. The official website of the Nobel Prize has a page dedicated to listing Nobel Laureates by age. Many were well over 80 when they received their award, and were still busy in their field, whether in science, literature or economics.

While most of us will never win a Nobel Prize, it's good to be reminded that dementia is not an inevitable part of growing older. In fact it's less inevitable than going grey and developing wrinkles. Let's hear more about the intellectual, social and creative achievements of older people. Do you agree? Do you have any favourite examples? 



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I'm a writer, medical graduate, wife, mother, and follower of Christ, with an interest in a wide range of topics and ideas. I live in Western Australia.