Brain 202

You get wiser with age, but your brain gets smaller

1 min read

Aging causes changes to the brain size, vasculature, and cognition. The brain shrinks with increasing age and there are changes at all levels from molecules to morphology. Incidence of stroke, white matter lesions, and dementia also rise with age, as does level of memory impairment and there are changes in levels of neurotransmitters and hormones. Protective factors that reduce cardiovascular risk, namely regular exercise, a healthy diet, and low to moderate alcohol intake, seem to aid the aging brain as does increased cognitive effort in the form of education or occupational attainment. A healthy life both physically and mentally may be the best defence against the changes of an ageing brain. Additional measures to prevent cardiovascular disease may also be important.


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To dig into the question whether or not you get wiser with age, a study investigated how aging affects brain patterns during the performance of a lexical analog of the Wisconsin Card Sorting Task, which has been shown to strongly depend on fronto-striatal activity. In the present study, both younger and older individuals revealed significant fronto-striatal loop activity associated with planning and execution of set-shifts, though age-related striatal activity reduction was observed. Most importantly, while the younger group showed the involvement of a "cognitive loop" during the receiving negative feedback period (which indicates that a set-shift will be required to perform the following trial) and the involvement of a "motor loop" during the matching after negative feedback period (when the set-shift must be performed), older participants showed significant activation of both loops during the matching after negative feedback period only. These findings are in agreement with the "load-shift" model, confirming differences in processing in older adults, indicating that the model is not limited to memory retrieval but also applies to executive processes relying on fronto-striatal regions.


To read the full study, click here