Monday, July 28, 2014

How The Nervous System Changes As You Age

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Definition


Information

As people age, their brain and nervous system go through natural changes. The brain and spinal cord lose nerve cells and weight. Nerve cells may begin to transmit messages more slowly than in the past. Waste products can collect in the brain tissue as nerve cells break down, causing abnormal structures called plaques and tangles to form. A fatty brown pigment (lipofuscin) can also build up in nerve tissue.

The breakdown of nerves can affect the senses. You might have reduced or lost reflexes or sensation, leading to problems with movement and safety.

Some slight slowing of thought, memory, and thinking seems to be a normal part of aging. Although these changes are natural, many people have misconceptions about the type and extent of these changes. A common myth is that all elderly people become senile. Or, many people blame increased confusion on "getting old" when it may really be caused by an illness.

These changes are not the same in everyone. Some people have many physical changes in their nerves and brain tissue, others have few changes. Some people will have atrophy and plaques, some will have plaques and tangles, and some will have other changes.

Furthermore, these changes are not always clearly related to the effects on your ability to think. For example, plaques and tangles are associated with Alzheimer's disease, but some people with the most severe symptoms have fewer plaques and tangles than those who have mild or moderate symptoms.

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Review Date: 11/17/2010
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org)