Aging and the Brain

As we get older, changes occur in all parts of our body, including the brain. These changes actually begin when we hit our late twenties when we begin to lose neurons – the cells that are the primary components of our brain and nervous system. It progresses, and by our mid-forties to late-fifties, our reasoning skills slow. By our sixties, parts of our brain literally begin to shrink, particularly those important to learning and other complex mental activities. This is a common and natural process that happens to everyone.


It is normal that older adults may forget some things, and become a bit more forgetful. It’s also normal to worry about the fact that you are forgetting things. There is a difference however between memory lapses that are part of normal aging and symptoms that indicate something more serious.

The normal brain aging process includes predictable changes in thinking and memory. Some of these changes are the result of damage from oxidative stress. This includes a reduced capability of the body to detoxify protein molecules that are harmful to brain cells, as well as a decline in the ability of the energy-producing components of mitochondria cells to support optimally functioning.

Alzheimer’s Disease

Some brain changes, such as those associated with Alzheimer’s disease, are not a normal part of aging. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia. It afflicts an estimated 5.8 million Americans. This number includes 200,000 individuals under the age of 65 who have younger-onset Alzheimer’s. The estimated 5.6 million people age 65 and older who have this disease represents 10 percent of this older demographic. By 2050, the total number is projected to rise to nearly 14 million.

Alzheimer’s disease is often associated with toxic proteins, and can lead to accelerated brain cellular dysfunction and death. As neurons are damaged or function ineffectively due to Alzheimer’s, cognitive decline occurs.

Cerebrovascular Disease

Another cause of brain changes is cerebrovascular disease. Cerebrovascular disease includes a range of conditions that affect the flow of blood through the brain. The most common causes of cerebrovascular disease are from strokes, typified by a permanent loss of sensation or motor function.

Boosting Brain Function

There are actions that we can take to can help our brain stay as sharp as possible despite the impact of normal brain aging changes. For example, aerobic exercise, proper diet and regularly engaging in mental stimulating activities can help. It has also been shown that the brain remains “plastic” – able to adapt to new challenges and tasks – as people age. There are therapies that can help older adults perform as well as younger people on complex brain challenges. The Yang Institute offers a variety of treatments to help arrest and reverse the impact of brain aging.

Although currently there are no cures for Alzheimer’s and Cerbrovascular disease, there are treatments than can ease the symptoms and slow progression in some people. Talk to a doctor at the Yang Insitutute about what options might work best for you or for your loved one.