Cathy Breslaw's Installation

Cathy Breslaw's Installation
Cathy Breslaw's Installation:Dreamscape

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Creativity and the Aging Brain: An Interview with Francine Toder, Ph.D. Psychologist, Author of The Vintage Years

Interview with Francine Toder, Ph.D, Author of  The Vintage Years
article by contemporary artist and writer Cathy Breslaw
Francine Toder

While doing some online research I found out about Toder's book which delves into the subject of creativity, the aging brain and the relationship between the two. Highlighting current research in neuroscience, Toder engages the reader with interviews she did with writers, artists and musicians all having begun their journey into the arts in later life. Toder herself began playing the cello later in life and discusses her experiences.

When Francine Toder Ph.D retired from her faculty position at California State University at Sacramento, she wondered how the next phase of her life would unfold. An accomplished researcher, book and grant writer and psychotherapist in private practice, Toder turned to a Creative Non-Fiction Writing class at Stanford University to help chart her course. She knew she wanted to continue to write and while her initial thought was to revise and update her earlier popular book Your Kids Are Grown, Moving On, her instructor encouraged her to pursue one of her other ideas which had to do with exploring the aging brain and how it could be stimulated cognitively through various creative activities. Her ensuing research about the aging brain, creativity and her personal experience in learning to play and master the cello all served to motivate her as she began her journey of writing The Vintage Years.

Originally planning to do a large study involving 500 plus aging participants, her plan was altered
when she began to interview older individuals and learned their life stories – Toder felt compelled to share their personal stories in detail and the resulting book examines the lives of visual artists, musicians, and writers. Her criteria for the interviewees were simply that they had to be over 55 years old, and had never pursued any of the arts prior to later life. The youngest in the study was 57 years old and the oldest was 96 years old and it turned out that there was a natural balance of male to female in her study. They live all over the U.S. but half are from the San Francisco Bay Area where Toder resides. She wants her book to inspire people to engage in the creative arts as a way of not only improving our brain functioning but to enrich the quality of our lives in later years.

In her book, Toder talks about how the aging brain facilitates artistic expression.  She states, “There is plentiful evidence that the older brain functions at least as well as the young or middle aged brain in most ways except for speed or analyzing data.” Quoting from Michael Sweeney, Ph.D., author of Brain: The Complete Mind, How it Develops, How it Works and How to Keep it Sharp  he states: “ It may move more slowly, but it moves with greater purpose. Except for a decrease in processing speed, the healthy mature brain performs about as well as a youthful one in any task requiring planning, analysis, and organization of information. And with the wisdom of a lifetime, the elderly brain usually outperforms the youthful brain in judgement.” Toder’s book examines in more detail the various research being done by neuroscientists and credits baby boomers for this increasing research and stated, “Baby boomers won’t be cast aside, they have lobby power and the power to influence.”

Toder believes there is still a bias in our culture to have low expectations of aging individuals, and there is still the nagging question: What is healthy and normal to be an older person? which needs to be addressed. Toder is planning an ebook as a sequel to The Vintage Years and her book can be purchased online at She does public speaking on the topic of aging and the creative mind, travelling all over the U.S. and she is happy to hear from readers.

Recently, Toder's book was included in a New York Times Article, by John Hanc, "New Worlds Open At The Artist's Easel", which also includes a terrific video about a late-blooming wheel-chair bound artist at 77 who was interviewed by the journalist. Here is the link to the article and video:

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