What Exactly Happens to our Brain as we Age?
“As we grow older, we all start to notice some changes in our ability to remember things.
Maybe you've gone into the kitchen and can't remember why or can't recall a familiar name during a conversation. You may even miss an appointment because it slipped your mind. Memory lapses can occur at any age, but we tend to get more upset by them as we get older because we fear they're a sign of dementia, or loss of intellectual function. The fact is, significant memory loss in older people isn't a normal part of aging—but is due to organic disorders, brain injury, or neurological illness.”
“Most of the fleeting memory problems that we experience with age reflect normal changes in the structure and function of the brain. These changes can slow certain cognitive processes, making it a bit harder to learn new things quickly or screen out distractions that can interfere with memory and learning.”
“As a person gets older, changes occur in all parts of the body, including the brain.
Certain parts of the brain shrink, especially those important to learning and other complex mental activities. In certain brain regions, communication between neurons (nerve cells) may not be as effective and blood flow in the brain may decrease.”
“…Our brains shrink in volume, particularly in the frontal cortex.”
New York Post, “The Exact Age when your Brain Power Peaks”
By Josie Griffiths, August 1, 2017
“Most people expect to see their memories fade as they move into old age but did you know it peaks when you’re just a teenager? That’s right, your brain processing power and memory peaks at the age of 18, according to new research published in Sage Journals.
“Determined to find out the peak age for different brain functions, the researchers quizzed thousands of people aged from 10 to 90. While in some aspects your brain may be past its peak, the scientists also found that there’s always a new peak on the horizon.
“Your vocabulary, for example, peaks at 67 while your ability to do math peaks at 50. At almost any given age, most of us are getting better at some things and worse at others.
· Brain processing power and detail memory: peaks at age 18.
· The ability to learn unfamiliar names: peaks at age 22.
· Facial recognition: peaks at age 32.
· Concentration: peaks at age 43.
· Ability to identify other people’s emotions: peaks at age 48.
· Basic arithmetic skills: peak at age 50.
· Ability to learn and understand new information: peaks at age 50.
· Vocabulary skills: peak at age 67.
“Scientists have long known that our ability to think quickly and recall information, also known as fluid intelligence, peaks around age 20 and then begins a slow decline. However, more recent findings, including a new study from neuroscientists at MIT and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), suggest that the real picture is much more complex.
“At any given age, you’re getting better at some things, you’re getting worse at some other things, and you’re at a plateau at some other things.
“The researchers also included a vocabulary test, which serves as a measure of what is known as crystallized intelligence — the accumulation of facts and knowledge. These results confirmed that crystallized intelligence peaks later in life, as previously believed, but the researchers also found something unexpected: While data from the Weschler IQ tests suggested that vocabulary peaks in the late 40s, the new data showed a later peak, in the late 60s or early 70s.”
What can We do to Keep our Brains Operating at its Optimal Performance?
“Protective factors that reduce cardiovascular risk, namely regular exercise, a healthy diet, and low to moderate alcohol intake, seem to aid the ageing brain as does increased cognitive effort in the form of education or occupational attainment. A healthy life both physically and mentally may be the best defense against the changes of an ageing brain.”
Despite the changes in cognition that may come with age, older adults can still do many of the things they have enjoyed their whole lives. Research shows that older adults can still:
· Learn new skills
· Form new memories
· Improve vocabulary and language skills
“Here are five ways to help keep your mind sharp as you age:
1. Stimulate Your Brain. According to the Alzheimer Association, mental stimulation is important for brain health. .... Continuing to learn new skills, working crossword puzzles or math games, and increasing social interaction are great ways to keep your mind active. Stay curious and involved in lifelong learning.
2. Eat Smart. Studies show that eating plenty of vegetables and fish rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel, decrease risk for cognitive decline. Avoid saturated fats, trans fats and hydrogenated oils.
3. Exercise Regularly. Staying physically active helps maintain regular blood flow to the brain and reduces the risk for high blood pressure, which is associated with the development of dementia.
4. Quit Smoking and Limit Drinking. Both decrease cognitive function. If you smoke, stop. If you choose to drink, do so moderately.
5. Control Your Cholesterol and High Blood Pressure. Either of these problems increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. They are also thought to contribute to the development of dementia. Having a healthy cardiovascular system means better blood flow, which is associated with improved cognitive function.”
Harvard Health.edu advises:
“1. Keep learning
2. Use all your senses: For example, try to guess the ingredients as you smell and taste a new restaurant dish. Give sculpting or ceramics a try, noticing the feel and smell of the materials you're using.
3. Believe in yourself: People who believe that they are not in control of their memory function are less likely to work at maintaining or improving their memory skills and therefore are more likely to experience cognitive decline.
4. Economize your brain use: If you don't need to use mental energy remembering where you laid your keys or the time of your granddaughter's birthday party, you'll be better able to concentrate on learning and remembering new and important things. Take advantage of calendars and planners, maps, shopping lists, file folders, and address books to keep routine information accessible. Designate a place at home for your glasses, purse, keys, and other items you use often. Remove clutter from your office or home to minimize distractions, so you can focus on new information that you want to remember.
5. Repeat what you want to know: when you want to remember something you've just heard, read, or thought about, repeat it out loud or write it down. That way, you reinforce the memory or connection. For example, if you've just been told someone's name, use it when you speak with him or her: "So, John, where did you meet Camille?" If you place one of your belongings somewhere other than its usual spot, tell yourself out loud what you've done. And don't hesitate to ask for information to be repeated.”
Since maintaining proper blood pressure is critical to our overall health, BP will be the topic of the next post.