Aging refers to more than just your physical appearance. Throughout life, your whole body undergoes biological, chemical, and psychological changes. While many times the way your brain ages seems inevitable there are many things that can be done in order to help your brain stay healthy and younger.
The brain goes through five stages of aging. This includes gestational, childhood, adolescence, adult, and old age. The brain is very complex, consisting of multiple cell types. Your brain cells or neurons make up the grey matter and there is a nerve coating called myelin which makes up the white matter. With advancements in technology, we are able to see that grey matter decreases between adulthood and old age.
One of the negative effects aging can have is an increased risk of degeneration in the brain. Dementia can result from this degeneration, as can Parkinson's disease. The most common form of dementia is known as Alzheimer's disease. It is estimated that 1 in 8 people in the United States are suffering with Alzheimer's including nearly 50% of those over 85 years of age. Each case of dementia is different, but some of the characteristics include trouble with memory, needing assistance on everyday tasks, and speech difficulties. The first sign of Alzheimer's is usually short term memory loss.
One role of neurologists, doctors who specialize in brain disorders, is to differentiate age related memory loss from dementia. Parkinson's disease is a degenerative condition of the brain that tends to occur after age 50. This disorder usually causes a combination of symptoms including shaking or tremor, slowed movements and muscle stiffness.
There is emerging evidence that regular exercise and healthy eating may help delay the onset of age-related brain diseases. The fat in fish, nuts and olive oil may be good for you, while diets high in sugar and animal fat may increase the risk of dementia.
Brain plasticity refers to the change in neuronal function which results from the interaction of neuronal processes, behavior and your environment. As you learn and develop there are accompanying changes in your brain. Challenging your brain in different ways helps your brain stay active and young throughout the years. Regular physical activity and mental stimulation may help preserve and grow new connections between nerve cells. Word puzzles, math problems, or other games that challenge your brain may help prevent some of the loss of brain plasticity that occurs with age.
Another way to keep your brain healthy is by limiting alcohol use. Heavy alcohol use has been linked to dementia. Limit your alcohol to no more than two drinks a day. By limiting the amount of alcohol you consume you can lower your risk for developing dementia and other diseases.
Although some diseases related to the brain are in your genes, it is important to know the many ways you can help your brain now. It is never too late to start training your brain. If you have any questions or concerns about how your brain is functioning don't hesitate to call your doctor.
Dr. Andrew Gordon is a neurologist at Northwest Neurology Ltd., the largest independently managed neurology practice in the Chicago area. As a specialist in neurology, Dr. Gordon focuses on Parkinson's disease, cognitive disorders, neuromuscular disease, headache, seizure disorder and Multiple Sclerosis. The Northwest Neurology Multiple Sclerosis Center, directed by Dr. George Katsamakis, is one of the largest of its kind. Each of the Northwest Neurology physicians maintains interest and expertise in all areas of neurology and has additional subspecialty interests. Northwest Neurology's office locations are 22285 Pepper Road, Suite 401 in Lake Barrington, 3701 West Algonquin Road, Suite 800 in Rolling Meadows and 2260 W. Higgins Road Suite 201 in Hoffman Estates. For appointments call (847) 882-6604.