How Our Brain Changes With Age

According to new research from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, as we age the human brain breaks down even in the absence of serious medical conditions, such as Alzheimer's disease. This deterioration leads to impaired memory and reasoning, but is still part of the normal aging process. According to researchers, the brain can be divided into major functional regions, each responsible for different processes like memory, sensory analysis, planning, and internal thoughts. Each region is connected by a network of "white matter" nerve fibers, where messages pass through the white matter from one region through another. Though scientists are aware that this white matter network degrades with age, how that decline contributed to the break down of large-scale cognition systems was unclear.

Using advanced medical imaging techniques to carry out brain scans, researchers examined 93 people ages 18 to 93. Participants who were older were also given a battery of tests to measure their mental abilities, including memory and mental function related to overall planning and processing speed.

The results of the study revealed that in younger people, their brain systems were mostly in sync with each other, but this was not so in older adults. With these participants, it was found that the front and back regions of the brains were particularly out of sync.

The researchers also found that older individuals with better test scores were more likely to have synchronized brains, but they were not all affected the same way. The head researcher, Dr. Randy Buckner, says that the study shows that cognitive decline in aging may be linked to the disruption of communication between different regions of the brain.


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