Remaining Lifelines

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When was the last time you shouted at someone?

Men arguing on park bench

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 WriterJoselyn

Joselyn wasn’t too keen on multiple choice in high school. She vividly remembers the first biology exam she passed by only the skin of her teeth, which dragged her overall average down into the embarrassingly low 90s (she doesn’t want to talk about it). After swearing off any high school or university courses that required multiple choice tests, Joselyn managed to get an English degree by sweet-talking her professors into offering only essay-style exams. Needless to say, this did not exactly endear her to her peers. This rocky start smoothed out in time, though, and after tumbling down a black quiz hole one day while putting off job hunting, Joselyn realized her hatred of all things a-b-or-c had faded and she actually enjoyed dreaming up new ideas for questions and dangerously correct-sounding answers. You won’t find her quizzes an easy ride, but Joselyn just wants to make sure you’re really testing your knowledge.

Did you know?

One part of the brain controls PBA

If you didn't let your emotions bubble to the surface from time to time, you wouldn't be human. Just imagine, for a second, that your emotions come bursting out in loud fits of anger or in overwhelming tears when you're feeling the exact opposite emotion. For those who are suffering frome Pseudobulbar Affect, it's an everyday reality. Most often found in conjunction with neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's Disease, and ALS, Pseudobulbar Affect is caused by damage or a dysfunctional part of the frontal lobe. Although the frontal lobe houses the limbic system, which is responsible for thinking and emotional responses, those with PBA lack the ability to express the emotion they may actually be feeling. Instead, a completely unrelated emotional outburst usually ensues. Without the ability to control these emotions, PBA sufferers often carry a lot of guilt and embarrassment. Fortunately, the medical community is continuing to advance and to find affective treatments to help the frontal lobe function properly.

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