Aging Changes in the Nervous System
Aging causes normal changes in the nervous system that can affect physical and mental abilities.
What is the information for this topic?
When a nerve cell in the central nervous system dies, it is not usually replaced. As cells die normally with age, the brain weight gradually decreases. Deposits of fat and other material also occur inside brain cells. Each of these results in a gradual loss of function.
Every nerve cell lost does not mean a definite loss of function. Some people do have changes in nerves and brain tissue that slow thinking, memory, and physical activities. But not everyone who has a fairly large loss of brain tissue seems to be affected. Other people lose very little brain tissue but have severe mental changes. There is much about aging and the nervous system that experts do not know yet.
The speed of nerve impulses has been shown to slow down with age. This can gradually slow a person's reflexes and responses. There is a normal, slow decline in the ability to learn new skills. The rate at which a person processes information declines with age. Processing information involves three steps:
encoding, or receiving, information
retrieving, or recalling, information
storing, or retaining, information
It takes longer to encode information as a person ages. This is often due to the changes in the senses, such as hearing and vision, that occur with age. Increased encoding time may also be related to a decline in short-term memory. Different people lose these abilities at different rates.
Confusion, dementia, and severe memory loss are not a normal part of the aging process. Many times, severe problems in thinking and behavior are caused by medical problems, such as:
Alzheimer disease, which causes memory loss and impaired thinking
coronary heart disease
heart bypass surgery, which can cause mental decline even years after the surgery
high blood pressure
kidney disease or liver disease
malnutrition, especially a deficiency in vitamins and minerals
Parkinson disease, which causes tremors and muscle stiffening
a stroke, which occurs when part of the brain is deprived of oxygen
the use of certain medicines, including sleeping pills, pain medicines, and over-the-counter cold remedies
Any new or worsening confusion, memory loss, or changes in mental or physical abilities should be reported to the healthcare provider. He or she can rule out disorders or medicines that might play a role. Even if no such problems are found, treatment may be available to help reduce some symptoms.
Recent research has found that staying physically, mentally, and socially active helps keep the mind sharp. People who use their minds for learning activities such as reading can delay the onset of mental decline.