Did you know that the brain forms more than a million new neural connections every second in the early years of life?
By the age of 6, the size of the brain increases to about 90% of its volume in adulthood. In our 30’s and 40’s, the brain starts to shrink, with the shrinkage rate increasing even more by age 60. Like wrinkles and gray hair that start to appear later in life, the brain’s appearance starts to change, too. Our brain’s physical morphing means that our cognitive abilities will become altered.
The following changes normally occur as we get older:
➡ Brain Mass: While brain volume decreases overall with age, the frontal lobe and hippocampus – specific areas of the brain responsible for cognitive functions – shrink more than other areas.
➡ Cortical Density: This refers to the thinning of the outer corrugated surface of the brain due to decreasing synaptic connections. Our cerebral cortex, the wrinkled outer layer of the brain that contains neuronal cell bodies, also thins with age.
➡ White Matter: White matter consists of myelinated nerve fibers that are bundled into tracts and transmit nerve signals between brain cells. Researchers believe that myelin shrinks with age, slowing down processing and reducing cognitive function. White matter is a vast, intertwining system of neural connections that join all four lobes of the brain (frontal, temporal, parietal, and occipital), and the brain’s emotion center in the limbic system.
➡ Neurotransmitter Systems: The brain begins to produce different levels of chemicals that affect neurotransmitters and protein production, ultimately leading to a decline in cognitive function.
Supporting The Ageing Brain
➡ A University of Oxford study found that taking vitamin B tablets every day can reduce the rate of brain atrophy in older people with mild cognitive impairment by as much as half.
➡ Maintaining sufficient levels of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA in the brain is an important measure for preventing neurodegenerative diseases later in life. Studies have shown that higher intake and higher circulating omega-3 DHA is associated with larger brain volume and a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
➡ A balanced life helps improve overall well-being. Regular exercise has favourable effects on the brain at all stages of life. One likely reason is that during physical activity there is enhanced blood flow to the brain, and exercising regularly helps to keep blood vessels healthy.
➡ Low levels of vitamin D are linked to cognitive impairment. Vitamin D is involved in memory formation. Several studies have associated vitamin D deficiency with an increased risk of cognitive impairment or dementia in older adults.