On February 16th, Alan B. Grindal, M.D. gave a Health Matters presentation, entitled “The Aging Brain: Realities and Opportunities.” Dr. Grindal is a Board Certified Neurologist and Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology. In January 2016, he joined the Plymouth Harbor, Inc. Board of Trustees. Below is a summary of Dr. Grindal’s presentation.
By the age of 65, two percent of the population will have dementia, and after that, the number doubles every five years. Today, there are 7 million people with dementia. By 2050, that number is estimated to be at 14 million. The reasoning is two-fold: 1.) People are living longer; 2.) Baby boomers will move into the 85 and over age group.
As we age, our brain gets smaller, we lose connectivity, and experience neuron loss in certain areas of the brain. In normal aging, we see a decline in autobiographical memory — for instance, memories about yourself, such as what you did on a certain day or where you were. However, semantic memories, including facts and ingrained skills, such as the first president, tend to be well-retained. Also in normal aging, there is a decline in fluid intelligence, which results in slower responses, a decrease in multi-tasking, and diminished creativity.
In general, there are three stages of decline in the aging brain:
- Age Associated Memory Impairment – compared to younger people. As we age, we are not as sharp as we were when we were at our peak (at 30-35 years old). Our ability to remember and absorb knowledge tends to slow down. However, this particular stage suggests that we’re aging at the same level as our peers.
- Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) – compared to peers. This stage identifies individuals whose level of function is slightly impaired. When compared to their peers, these individuals are not functioning at the same level, but they are still able to live independently.
- Dementia – loss of Activities of Daily Living (ADL) skills. This stage identifies those with Dementia — an impairment of higher cognitive mental skills that prevents people from being able to live independently. How does Alzheimer’s disease fit in? While the above are levels of function, Alzheimer’s disease is a pathology that can cause any or all of these stages.
While the reality of the aging brain is not always encouraging, there are several opportunities under our control that may help delay certain effects of aging, including:
- Educational Attainment and Intellectual Challenges. The more educated you are, the less risk you have. In addition, continuing to challenge yourself educationally is extremely beneficial — particularly when you get engaged in something you enjoy doing, such as Sudoku, reading, crossword puzzles, etc.
- Physical Activity. Aerobic exercise is proven to lead to an increase in brain volume.
- Engaged Lifestyle/Social Environment. It has been shown that people can deteriorate quickly if they become socially isolated. Humans are social beings, and it is important to continue this attribute as we age.
View Dr. Grindal’s full presentation here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ykdfRPl0f0c