What Happens to the Brain as We Age?

Unfortunately, aging is inevitable, and with it comes the deterioration of the brain. Brain aging affects people differently and some may experience issues with their cognitive functions earlier than others. Studies have shown that aging affects the brain size and cognition. By the time you hit 80, your brain loses weight and starts to shrink. The brain controls most of our thinking – decision-making, planning, organizing, memory, and other cognitive abilities, which affect our daily lives.

The Aging Process

Our brains are never in a steady state. From when you were a toddler, through teenage years and into adulthood, the brain undergoes significant changes. There are billions of neurons in the brain, which can live up to 100 years in human beings.

The brain comprises of different parts which change at different times. For instance, the frontal lobe, whose main function is impulse control and memory, are among the last parts of the brain to fully develop. For some, the frontal lobes may become fully mature at the age of 35. The decline in your system affects your whole body in general. Some of the signs that show brain deterioration include:

  • Memory lapses. Remembering simple things like names, where you put your keys, appointments, and any other information becomes difficult and requires your memory to be jogged.
  • Multitasking abilities start to decline. You become slower in processing information and it becomes more difficult to perform multiple tasks simultaneously.
  • You become less attentive. Occasionally, your mind slips away while in the middle of a conversation.
  • Blood flow in the brain may decrease.
  • Communication between nerve cells (neurons) decreases.
  • The likelihood of inflammation caused by an injury or an illness increases.

Physical Changes

Even as the brain ages, scientists have concluded that it’s still capable of learning and adapting to new things. In other words, you can still learn how to ride a bicycle, swim or any other new skill at the age of 65. That’s why Adult Education is active in most parts of the world as old students want to learn new skills. However, research indicates that when we hit the 40-year mark, the volume of the brain and its weight start to decline at the rate of five percent per decade. According to scientists, when the hippocampus shrinks, it affects the virtual memory and spatial orientation.

The myelin sheath, the protection that surrounds the nerve fibers wears down and gradually starts to affect the communication between neurons. This explains why it might be difficult to let new information in and retrieve what’s already stored in there. Brain deterioration starts as early as in the 20s, only that we can’t realize it. Come to think of it. Can you recall a time in your 20s when you experienced slight memory lapse but didn’t pay much attention? This is because your brain receptors are not as quick to respond to things compared to when you were a teenager.

By the time you’re approaching 60, your reasoning slows down. The ability to speak as fluent as when you were a teenager begins to fade and you may have a hard time remembering things. However, on a positive note, some fields of cognition such as controlling emotions, expressing one’s personality and decision making skills may actually improve with age. Which might explain why older people are wiser. The parts most affected by age include the prefrontal cortex, striatum, temporal lobe, cerebellar vermis, and hippocampus.

Cognitive Changes

Memory is mostly affected by your brain’s age. Memory function deteriorates as you get older, and the resources responsible for storing memory starts to fade away as you approach 60 and above. Your brain becomes slower at processing events and reacts even slower to the surroundings or new information. Like we mentioned above, some of the signs that your cognition is deteriorating include, losing your keys from time to time, driving a little slower than usual, you forget that you just ate breakfast but remember when someone reminds you, you can’t find the right words to describe something, among other signs.

Risk Factors Associated with Aging Brain

The neurotransmitters responsible for the aging of the brain are dopamine and serotonin. Their levels decline by about 10 percent from the 30s going up. The risk of developing Alzheimer’s increases with age. The reason why the risk is higher when we age is not exactly clear, but inflammation may play a role. Other risk factors associated with aging and dementia include:

  • Diabetes.
  • Hypertension.
  • Diabetes.
  • High cholesterol.

How to Slow Down the Aging of the Brain

Some of the measures you can take to protect your brain from developing early cognitive failure are:

  • Regular consumption of seafood and fish.
  • A healthy diet.
  • Regular exercise.
  • Avoid excessive alcohol and cigarettes.
  • Antioxidant supplements.
  • Getting enough sleep.
  • Increasing your intellectual knowledge.
  • Protecting your head from any sort of injury, where possible.

All images by Pixabay


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