Table of Contents:
- What happens when your brain ages?
- Is brain aging permanent?
- What causes brain aging to happen faster?
- What are the symptoms of brain aging?
- How can you test to see how your brain measures up?
- Brain Aging Factors – Why do some people have it worse than others?
- Can you stop the aging brain?
Aging is a complex process, and nobody knows for sure why the cells in our bodies start behaving differently as we grow older. They are meant to replace each other, renewing tissues every day to counter wear down and tissue damage. However, for some reason, this process becomes defective, and damaged cells start to accumulate in tissues. Ultimately, this causes elasticity problems in the skin, weakening structures in the bones, memory loss, and other functional issues in the brain.
Brain aging is why seniors lose their ability to cope with change and new situations, suffer from mood swings, and have slower reaction times and thinking ability.
But we are not destined to experience the same symptoms. There are different ways to counter brain aging, such as lifestyle and supplementation, as you will read in this article. But first, let us describe what happens when the brain ages and what to expect of this process.
What happens when your brain ages?
Similar to other tissues, brain aging causes changes in the structure and function of this most important organ. Some of these changes are visible in imaging tests, but others are only noticeable through a cognitive ability test. A few others are molecular changes in brain chemistry that are difficult to discern on both, but science is catching up.
In a nutshell, we can find the following changes as the brain ages:
Certain parts of the brain can shrink:
The volume of specific brain areas becomes reduced as we age. This shrinking is particularly common in the medial temporal and prefrontal regions. With a reduction of gray matter in these regions, seniors display personality changes, neuroticism, and a higher rate of memory loss (1).
Blood flow decreases:
In certain parts of the brain, cerebral blood flow and oxygen consumption change as we age. Motor and sensory areas are spared, but association areas, the prefrontal cortex, and other essential brain areas reduce their blood flow. By doing so, these brain areas are susceptible to increased brain aging, causing progressive cognitive changes (2).
Inflammation contributes to cognitive decline:
Inflammation plays a significant role in cognitive decline. There is a process known as inflammaging, which is deeply related to vascular changes, too. Inflammaging is low-grade inflammation that increases with age and causes immune changes, cellular senescence, endothelial dysfunction, and much more. Inflammation can ultimately cause more serious, long-term cognitive issues, neurovascular complications, and much more (3).
Metabolic balance becomes altered:
The above changes trigger chemical alterations in the brain. The metabolic pattern of a normal brain starts to change. Neuroplasticity becomes impaired, calcium homeostasis in neurons is modified, and oxidative damage affects cells and tissues (4).
Is brain aging permanent?
What is described above does not happen all of a sudden. It is a slow and progressive change in brain structure and function with long-term consequences. Some of them are permanent depending on the severity, but the rate of decline can be slowed and sometimes stopped! Other, less severe changes in the brain can be reversed.
For example, if the consequences of brain aging in your case triggered a serious neurocognitive issue, the condition can be challenging to reverse depending on severity. Advancements in science and nutrition are showing great promise, which is the purpose of this article. But if your brain changes are not that severe, you can recover your cognitive ability and, in some cases begin to reverse it.
What causes brain aging to happen faster?
At this point, you’re probably worried about reaching an irreversible stage of brain aging. All of us want to slow down the progression to severe changes in brain function. But is there something around us that speeds up this process?
The short answer is yes. Our lifestyle can and will trigger more rapid brain aging.
For example, eating a diet of processed foods, sugar, saturated fats, and simple carbs promotes inflammation. Low-stage inflammation powered by an unhealthy diet accelerates inflammaging and cognitive issues (5).
Another lifestyle factor is exercise. Living a sedentary life speeds up brain aging because exercise provides a protective effect for the brain (6).
What are the symptoms of brain aging?
Everyone experiences brain aging differently, but most people display one of these symptoms or a combination (7):
It is perhaps one of the most feared symptoms of an aging brain. Not being able to remember your family and friends is an unmistakable sign of an aging brain. However, even in natural brain aging without severe degeneration, there’s some memory loss, and patients have a hard time recalling certain events and details of the past.
This symptom includes not being fully aware of our current time and place. These patients often speak nonsense or have confusing recollections. Disorientation is usually a late-stage symptom, and only people with a severe condition have this type of disordered speech. It is also associated with changes in the state of consciousness in some cases.
Difficulty to learn:
People with an aging brain usually have problems learning new things. Learning deficiencies is one of the first signs of aging. These patients sometimes have intact memory of past events, but they can’t create new memories. The ability to remember and learn is dependent on brain plasticity, which is affected in the aging brain.
The difficulty for logical thinking and organizing thoughts:
Logical thinking and problem-solving is a higher cognitive function. It is not only about memory. It also requires organization, evaluation, comparison, and prediction of situations and abstract elements. As such, problem-solving is often compromised in the initial stages of brain aging.
Difficulty recalling names and find the right words:
This is often the first sign of memory loss. Most of us have had this symptom at least once. However, in brain aging, the problem is recurrent, persistent, and worsens after a while. In a later stage, you are likely to confuse the names of your close relatives and get stuck frequently in the middle of your sentences.
The capacity to hold your attention is also a higher cognitive ability. Close attention and ability to focus are essential for learning, recalling, and problem-solving. However, an aging brain is more likely to wander or get distracted easily.
If you can’t focus and have memory problems, your ability to do multiple things simultaneously is severely impaired. That is what happens as we age, and we’re forced to focus on one thing at a time.
Similar to not recalling names and having trouble with words, misplacing things is something most of us have experienced at least once. However, finding your keys in the cookie jar or another unlikely place is a sign of brain aging.
Decreased or poor judgment:
As our higher cognitive functions become impaired, our mental acuity becomes affected as well. Before entering a state of confusion, brain aging compromises the capacity to think rationally, evaluate situations, make decisions, and solve problems.
Changes in mood and personality traits:
As noted above, specific changes in brain regions cause a higher rate of neuroticism, irritability, and personality changes. Mood swings are also more common, especially in confused patients with advanced aging.
Problems coping with new situations:
As the brain ages, it becomes unable to cope with new situations. Patients have difficulty concentrating and learning new things. Thus, they are not prepared to face new challenges and modifications in their lifestyle and habits.
How can you test to see how your brain measures up?
As noted above, most of us have had one or two symptoms of brain aging, especially forgetting names or misplacing things. You can experience these symptoms without any brain damage. Thus, how do we know there’s something wrong with us?
There are different tests neurologists use to measure cognitive function. For example, the Montreal Cognitive Assessment is a 10-15 minute test that includes memorizing a short list of words, identifying images, and drawing an object. This is a widely used test, but it fails to measure actual brain output and electrical performance.
For that purpose, another test has been designed. It is known as WAVi and measures your brain function by recording and evaluating your brain waves. Through this test, you have a more comprehensive understanding of your brain speed, brainpower (voltage), reaction time, and much more. Moreover, a WAVi test can be compared against other people in your age range to measure your overall health of brain function. A WAVi test also includes a Mini-Mental State Exam, a widely accepted cognitive test to help support the electrical measurements.
Brain Aging Factors – Why do some people have it worse than others?
Are you at a higher risk of accelerated brain aging? It is a fact that some people have it worse than others and lose their cognitive function at a relatively young age.
Is there any risk factor for brain aging? According to scientific literature, there are at least three risk factors(8):
There’s a genetic predisposition for rapid brain aging. It sometimes runs in families, but keep in mind that genetic predisposition is not written in stone. You can activate or inhibit most of your genes with environmental factors. Thus, genetics as a risk factor should be paired with other environmental elements such as where you live and what you eat.
Where you live:
It is essential to consider nationality and race. According to studies, Japanese people are more susceptible to advanced brain aging as compared to Hispanics when they have a gene known as APOE. Where you live also dictates your habits, cultural background, and lifestyle. All of these factors play a significant role in speeding up brain aging.
What you eat:
Brain aging is more rapid in people with vitamin D deficiency, low antioxidant profile, and inflammatory diets with saturated fats.
Can you stop the aging brain?
If you read all of the above, you now have the basic understanding to slow accelerated brain aging. What you eat matters, and exercise has a protective effect, as you now know. But let us give you a short and actionable summary of what to do to potentially reverse brain aging.
Follow a healthy diet:
Certain dietary patterns have neuroprotective effects. There’s a recent trend of personalized nutrition to avoid this type of problem. However, you can also join the best of the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet, following a healthy eating pattern that will protect your brain and sometimes reverse inflammaging (9).
Live a more active lifestyle:
We briefly mentioned that exercise has a protective effect on the brain. When you live an active lifestyle, mortality and disability levels are reduced. You’re less likely to suffer from dementia, and brain aging slows down. Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate physical activity 5 days a week, and go over the minimum whenever possible (6).
If you don’t want to put in the countless hours to measure and consume all of the necessary vitamins and minerals required for optimal brain performance through your diet alone (99% of us!), supplementation is required. But how does someone know which supplements to add to their daily regimen?
Choose your supplements carefully: There is a wide array of supplements for brain performance, and there’s a new word for them: nootropics. These supplements work by increasing the blood flow to the brain, speeding up the synthesis of neurotransmitters, favoring brain connections, and facilitating neuroplasticity. They use different mechanisms and different ingredients.
You have two kidneys, a pair of eyes, but only one brain. This organ is not easy to regenerate, so we must take special care of it. What can you do to prevent brain aging and maximize your cognitive function?
First of all, your lifestyle and habits are vital. Eating a healthy diet and being more active can help preserve your brain function. But most of us want to stay one step forward, and that’s why brain performance supplements are a required part of long-term care, especially as we age.
This one addition solves potential nutrient deficiencies and gives your brain the building blocks to maximize its potential. You could revert brain aging in some cases and slow down the process in others to protect and fortify this noble organ.