From childhood to adulthood, the human body goes through a lot of visible physical changes. But have you ever stopped and thought about how your brain changes with age?
It’s pretty easy to notice the changes in the brain when we compare a child’s to an adult’s. But when it comes to comparing the brain of an adult to the elderly, some things might not be as evident. But just like our bodies, our brains undergo a lot of changes as well.
How Your Brain Changes with Age
Neurons, or the cells in our brain, are among the longest-lived cells in our bodies. However, this does not mean that they are prone to the ravages of time.
As we grow older, some brain cells can die off, and some are affected by illness or disease. These factors can affect how our brains function and can be a significant factor in how our brain changes with age.
It was previously thought that once a person was born, new brain cells were no longer produced. But some studies conducted on adult brains found that some of them contained new brain cells. This suggests that neurogenesis, or the growth of new brain cells, might not necessarily stop at birth.
However, scientists are still unsure if these new brain cells are significant enough to contribute to improved brain function.
Physical Changes in the Brain
First off, let’s discuss the various physical changes that happen in the brain. Studies have found that the brain loses about 5% of its weight every decade after age 40.
This means that as we grow older, our brain starts to get smaller. The reason why is still unclear, but it is believed that a combination of factors, such as neurons dying off, or other health conditions might be responsible.
In particular, illnesses like the following are most commonly associated with shrinking of the brain:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Brain injury
- Huntington’s disease
- Multiple sclerosis
Additionally, this shrinking doesn’t happen uniformly throughout the brain. Brain scans revealed that the prefrontal cortex, or the part of the brain responsible for personality, behavior, and decision-making shrinks more compared to other parts of the brain.
In contrast, the occipital cortex, or the part of the brain responsible for our vision, tends to shrink the least.
These findings coincide with the cognitive changes as well as changes in behavior that are most common among the elderly.
Cognitive Changes in the Brain
Cognitive changes refer to the changes that happen to the way people learn, read, think, remember, and pay attention. When it comes to how your brain changes with age, cognitive changes might be the most noticeable.
As young children grow, their ability to remember and learn new things starts to increase. It’s not uncommon for children to be able to remember a surprising amount of things, because their brains are still developing and taking in as much information as they can.
However, as people grow older, the brain’s cognitive function starts to decline. This is most evident in the fact that as our memories, experiences, and skills accumulate over time, we tend to forget some of these things.
Some people might forget birthdays, phone numbers, or even people’s names. But surprisingly, procedural memories, or our memory of how to do things, largely remains intact. A good example of this would be when people don’t forget how to ride a bike or how to tie their shoes.
Despite this decline, growing old is not necessarily a bad thing for the brain. In fact, certain studies have found that older adults tend to perform better when it comes to verbal abilities, spatial reasoning, math, and abstract reasoning.
One of the most common misconceptions about how your brain changes with age is that it’s hard for older people to learn new things. But our brains remain surprisingly active throughout our lives.
This means that older people are just as capable of learning new things and retaining that knowledge in their brains. This is mainly due to the fact that our brains can reroute the connections between neurons to adapt whenever we learn something new.
A study found that air-traffic controllers and airline pilots aged between 50-69 took more time trying to understand new equipment. But they had a better grasp and mastery of the equipment once they learned.
Can You Slow Down Brain Aging?
Here are some things that you can do in order to slow down brain aging and maintain your brain function:
- Engage in exercise for at least 30 minutes each day. Having a healthy body contributes to having a healthy mind, so be sure to stay fit and healthy.
- Eat the right kinds of foods. Focus on eating foods that are healthy and rich in vitamins in minerals.
- Try to eat nuts, berries, and fatty fish such as tuna or salmon. These foods contain healthy fats that your brain needs.
- Keep your brain active. Read books, do puzzles, and don’t be afraid to learn new things.
- Try to keep cholesterol levels and blood pressure levels down.
- Vitamin D can help prevent cognitive impairment.
By following these simple tips, you should be able to maintain your brain function, and slow down the effects of aging.
Learn more about Healthy Aging here.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.