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Changes to Our Brain as We Age

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It should come as no surprise to hear that our brain is the most complex organ in our body.  After all, it serves as the command center for our entire nervous system.  Yet most scientists agree that we have only a minimal understanding of our brain’s complexity.

One area science has allowed us to explore are the changes our brain endures as we age.  As we seek to improve our mental health and ability, we must first start by learning about the astonishing phases our brain experiences throughout our life.

Birth

From the moment we are born into the world, we have over 100 billion neurons that will carry us throughout the rest of our life.  You might be surprised to learn that we are born with the basic survival skills and reflexes that become the building blocks of our daily actions.

Childhood

Did you realize that much of who you are today – your personality and social skills – were almost entirely developed by the time you reached childhood?  As a child, our brain attempts to create neural connections between our actions and the responses associated with each.  We begin to strengthen the connection to the actions we use most, while those we neglect begin to fade away.  Parents are encouraged to reinforce positive behaviors during this stage to help us develop healthy habits.

Teenage

Once we become teenagers, our brain has reached its full weight.  Our actions at this age might not exemplify an adult-like ability to make good decisions.  However, we will notice a boost in our ability to process increasingly complex concepts with ease, often at the same time. 

20s and 30s

It is at this age where the section of the brain responsible for our decision-making and planning has finished developing.  Our brains approach peak performance levels and we should actively work to maintain and improve our brain’s ability to function.  Our fluid intelligence, our brain’s ability to reason and problem solve, begins to decline in our 30s when our mental health is neglected.

40s and 50s

In our 40s and 50s, the efforts we have made to keep our brain sharp start to pay off.  You might find that friends who have not been so disciplined are showing signs of slowed reasoning skills.  With the help of the life experience we have gained, we also notice improvements in our ability to keep emotions under control.  Moral decisions seem to be far more clear cut than in the past. 

While our fluid intelligence might continue to decline, our crystallized intelligence, the brain’s ability to apply experiences, education and cultural skills to a situation, will continue to grow throughout our life.

60s and 70s

At 60, we notice the benefits of our healthy lifestyle choices and brain boosting activities more than ever.  Now that we have reached this age, our brain has begun to shrink.  We face challenges when we try to access the knowledge and memories stored within our smaller brain.  We should continue to challenge our brain with daily exercise, but also be aware of any sharp declines in our mental ability – as the risk of Alzheimer’s increases sharply around age 65. 

80s and Beyond

While our risk of developing Alzheimer’s has increased, the idea that we are all destined to develop the disease or another form of dementia are misguided.  Only a very small group of people in this age range develop a debilitating mental disorder. 

Much like the rest of the muscles in our body, our brain is not as strong as it once was.  Our ability to access memories and solve problems today is the direct result of our lifestyle choices and effort we put into developing our brain earlier in life.   

Knowledge is Power

The first step to improving or maintaining our mental ability is to understand how our brain develops and evolves over time.  Once we know the factors that are within our control, we can develop meaningful habits that will combat the effects aging can have on our brain.  For suggestions on how you can take an active role in improving your mental ability, read our article on Brain Boosting Habits and Exercises. 

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