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Science lesson!

Our brains change with age

As we age, our brains undergo a series of changes that can affect everything from memory to motor skills, emotional regulation, to cognitive abilities. This process, known as brain aging, is a natural part of growing older, but it can also be influenced by factors such as lifestyle, genetics, and overall health.

One of the most noticeable changes is the gradual shrinkage of the brain. Starting around the age of 60, the brain begins to lose volume, particularly in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, areas involved in complex mental activities and memory formation. This shrinkage can lead to noticeable effects on cognitive function, including difficulties in learning new information and recalling details.

Alongside this, the brain's white matter also changes, which helps transmit signals between different brain regions. Age can lead to a decline in the quality of myelin, the protective coating around nerve fibers, leading to slower processing speeds and affecting tasks that require quick thinking or coordination.

Neurotransmitters, the brain's chemical messengers, also change with age. Dopamine levels, a neurotransmitter involved in reward and motivation, decrease, which can affect mood and cognitive function. Similarly, serotonin, which regulates mood, sleep, and appetite, can also decline, potentially contributing to sleep disturbances and mood changes often associated with aging.

Another significant change is the accumulation of 'wear and tear' damage at a cellular level. This includes oxidative stress, inflammation, and the build-up of waste products, which can impair cell function and lead to neuronal loss. This is particularly relevant in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, where specific types of neurons are progressively lost.

The brain's plasticity, or its ability to adapt and reorganize itself, also declines with age. This can affect the brain's capacity to recover from injury and adapt to new situations or tasks. However, engaging in mentally stimulating activities and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help preserve plasticity and support cognitive function.

Changes in the blood-brain barrier, which protects the brain from harmful substances, can also occur. Aging can make this barrier more permeable, potentially allowing toxins or pathogens to enter the brain and cause damage.

Lastly, aging can affect the brain's circadian rhythms, which regulate sleep and other bodily functions. Changes in these rhythms can lead to sleep disturbances, mood changes, and cognitive impairments.

While these changes may sound concerning, it's important to remember that brain aging is a normal process. Moreover, many factors, including a healthy diet, regular physical and mental exercise, and maintaining social connections, can help support brain health as we age.


Quiz WriterHaven

As a child, Haven enjoyed learning everything they could about many subjects, though the best resource was her grandma’s old stack of encyclopedias in those days. Today, Haven still likes to know a bit about everything. When they're not researching information for their posts or flexing that history degree, Haven's going through the quizzes of other authors on the site - because this is where the facts are found! Visitors to our site turn to Haven's fun and factual articles to learn about all kinds of things, from do-it-yourself ideas to the wider world. Those who prefer to get their facts in article format can find Haven all across the web, as well.

Did you know?

Alzheimer's isn't the only cause of dementia

For those who have dementia, it can be life altering. From memory loss to disorientation to the loss of being able to perform activities of daily living, dementia has serious side-effects. While Alzheimer's patients are also approximately 60-70% of dementia patients, there are many other things that can also cause the debilitating disease. Other forms of dementia include dewy dementia, mixed dementia, and frontotemporal dementia. While dementia is often also associated aging, not everyone who ages develops dementia, and each type of dementia has a different set of challenges and characteristics. Being a little forgetful, or even disoriented, is absolutely normal, but the severity of an individual's dementia can range from the need for daily assistance or for total care in a safe and soothing environment. Interestingly, some of the top therapies for dementia are various occupational activities and socialization with others who are dealing with the marked same issues.

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