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Posted: July 08, 2011

Keeping Seniors Healthy

Are Older Men Naturally Grumpy? Or Do Their Brains Just Shrink?

Q. Some friends and I (all in our 60’s) have discovered similar traits in our husbands of late. There’s a general grumpiness and lack of grooming. We’ve been told that, as men age, their frontal lobes begin to shrink, and that this is the area of the brain which governs these qualities. Is this true? Are there remedies?

A. Researchers at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit have discovered evidence suggesting the male brain shrinks faster with age than the female brain.

“We found that age-related shrinkage was greater for men in three regions of the brain that are involved in thinking, planning and memory," said Dr. C. Edward Coffey, the study's principal investigator.

There was evidence of greater shrinkage around the frontal (front) and temporal (middle) lobes of men.

“We have known for a while that men tend to be more prone to age-related brain disorders such as memory loss and Alzheimer's disease. These findings may help provide an explanation for these sex differences,” Dr. Coffey said. "We are currently investigating the potential functional differences that might result from the acceleration of age-related brain shrinkage in men.”

Do men become grumpy and slovenly because of shrunken lobes? The jury is out on that question.

Researching this subject was a fascinating experience because there is so much interesting information available about differences between male and female brains. Here are some of the most fascinating facts:

  1. Dr. Gabrielle M. de Courten-Myers, a University of Cincinnati scientist, has determined men have about 2 billion more brain cells than women but the extra cells don't make them smarter than women.
  2. 2.) Louann Brizendine, a San Francisco neuropsychiatrist and author of The Female Brain, asserts that the difference between male and female brains explains why women like to discuss their feelings, while men love to dwell upon sex.

    “Women have an eight-lane superhighway for processing emotion, while men have a small country road," Brizendine says. “Men, however, have O'Hare Airport as a hub for processing thoughts about sex, where women have the airfield nearby that lands small and private planes.”
  3. A brain-scanning study suggests that when males watch a mild electric shock given to a cheater, they don't feel his pain. Instead they enjoy it. Women's brains empathize with the cheater’s pain and they get no pleasure from it.
  4. Men tend to perform better than women at certain spatial tasks, target-directed motor skills, mathematical reasoning, and navigating. (Is that why they don’t ask for directions?). Women tend to excel at word tests, identifying matching items and precision manual tasks.
  5. Men and women with equal IQ’s achieve the same scores with different areas of the brain, Richard J. Haier, PhD reported in NeuroImage.  He also found that women have more white matter and fewer gray matter areas related to IQ than men do.

But what about remedies for grumpy behavior? And here I have to admit that there must be something to this female reader’s complaint. After all, how did “grumpy old man” become a fixture in our language?

As an old -- but not usually grumpy -- man, I have a recommendation. Take your grumpy old husband in your arms and tell him how much you love him and how much you appreciate all that he has done for you over many years.

I guarantee that, if you do this, his frontal lobe will grow.

Fred Cicetti is a freelance writer who specializes in health. He has been writing professionally since 1963. Before he began freelancing, he was a reporter and columnist for three daily newspapers in New Jersey. He has written two published novels: Saltwater Taffy, and Local Angles. You can send your health-related questions to Fred at

© 2011 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.
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