The Aging Brain
Robert Lipsyte, journalist and author of In the Country of Illness
Abigail Trafford, Washington Post columnist and author of My Time
Professor Gerald Torres, University of Texas School of Law
Jesse Kornbluth, Headbutler.com
Dr. Rudolph Tanzi, Harvard University
It comes with the territory: as we age, our brains just aren't as adept. We start forgetting names, we blank out on something we were just about to say. Rudy Tanzi, Ph.D., joins the Life (Part 2) panel to discuss some of the goings-on in the aged cranium. Tanzi is a Harvard-trained neurobiologist, and the director of the genetics and aging research unit at the Massachusetts General Institute for Neurodegenerative Disease.
When we're younger, there's more of an emotional component to learning new things. That emotional component solidifies memory. For instance, most of us can recall exactly where we were when JFK was shot. (If you can't, you're not old enough for Life (Part 2). As we age, the emotional component wanes, and thus, memory is not as firmly fixed.
The good news is that we don't lose brain cells. But we lose synapses, where the nerve impulses are transmitted and received. The key is to keep those synapses firing. If you're sitting around with no fresh input into the ol' noggin, new synapses can't be made.
The best way to do this is exercise, both physical and mental. Tanzi suggests making yourself learn new things, or do routine things in a different way. Take a new route to work, or try golfing or brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand. (Hey, it just might improve your game!)
Many worry about Alzheimer's Disease and Tanzi clarifies what is normal memory loss and what could be dementia. Normal memory loss is when you forget where you put your car keys. Alzheimer's is when you forget what car keys are for. To be sure, there are genetic risk factors for Alzheimer's, but the biggest risk factor is age. Healthy living, exercising both the brain and the body, social interaction and staying engaged probably protect against Alzheimer's, just as it can other diseases.
And you might want to keep this in mind (write it down if you have to): sex. Dr. Tanzi says that emotion and passion are important in life, and sex can be useful in keeping both alive. Note to self!