September 16, 2014
Cory Quirino

There are 350 million “microcomputers” in your brain. And they are all sending clear messaging, according to Dr. Michael Merzenich in the book “Soft-Wired: How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life.”

Slowing down at 60
It says that around the age of 60, the human brain starts to shrink slowly in volume. The changes directly affect the cerebral cortex of the brain. This is where a great concentration of nerve cells are found; the cells are responsible for higher brain function like movement and mental operations. These include social behavior, memory, thought, navigation and attention.

Age shrinks the white matter of the brain called the hippocampus, which plays an important role in way-finding, long-term memory and other complex mental activities.

Other important functions affected are language skills and learning.

One might ask, “Which other regions of the brain are affected negatively by age? The answer is an unwelcome one: almost all of it.

But while the brain has the capacity to replace dying nerve cells, their slow but progressive demise outweighs their potential replacement rate. While many nerve cells survive, their interconnections become simplified.

The young brain is likened to a big tree filled with mature and young branches. The aging brain is also like a big tree, but minus the smaller branches.

To summarize, while the concern is brain shrinkage, the more serious matter is the simplification of the interconnection between the nerve cells.

The brain’s machinery
What actually happens inside the aging brain?

  • Actions within the higher brain center slow down. The highways and skyways of the brain develop cracks and potholes. Thus, the arrival time of a thought is less reliable or punctual.
  • Actions which need coordination are less precise. For example, eating and reading at the same time can become difficult.
  • The ability to use information from one moment to the next slows down. An old brain has difficulty translating what one sees or hears into what it actually means.
  • Attention problems emerge; multitasking can become a challenge.
  • New learning abilities slowly die; self-confidence, good mood and learning new skills are in danger of deterioration.
  • Delivery of oxygen and nutrients slow down, leading to low blood supply.
  • A weak and compromised immune system affects the brain adversely.
  • But the human brain is like plastic—its machinery can be revised and strengthened. In short, one can rewire his/her brain.

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