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THE SECRET LIFE OF THE BRAIN
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Program 5: The Aging Brain: Through Many Lives
Episode 5 looks at the effects of normal aging on memory, the amazing resiliency of the brain to recover from disease, and strategies to keep the brain highly functional through old age.

Headline

New Discoveries

Scientists once thought that as the brain aged millions of neurons died, making it harder for new circuits to form. This theory was found to be incorrect. There is actually little nerve cell loss in normal aging, and the human brain continues to produce new neurons even into old age. Severe loss of memory and cognitive function is a result of disease, not a natural outcome of aging.

Physical exercise is now seen as important in maintaining a healthy, functioning brain throughout life. Exercise might boost production of vital brain proteins that keep neurons healthy. Genetics is also a factor.

Career Focus

Imaging Technician

To become an imaging technician requires completion of a two year associate degree program, including clinical training hours, and a passing grade on the national licensing exam. Imaging technicians work in hospitals, clinics, and diagnostic labs. Employment opportunities abound because there are not enough people to fill the demand, particularly in rural areas. Once qualified, the technician can work anywhere in the world because the technical application is the same no matter the location.

Paul Aravich
Jeff Meyer, New Mexico Institute of Neuroimaging, VA Medical Center, Albuquerque.
Jeff Meyer, New Mexico Institute of Neuroimaging, VA Medical Center, Albuquerque, has been an imaging technician for over 20 years. He was first drawn to the profession when he read an article about CAT scanners in "Popular Science" magazine. He was fascinated by the machine that could look at how the brain is built and sought more information about it. Although a machine first drew his attention to the field, Meyer speaks of his profession in terms of the people's lives he touches. It can be very challenging to work with sick, frightened people who, feeling at their worst, sometimes misdirect their anger and frustrations. The imaging technician has to realize that it's not personal and that he or she can help patients deal with their problems. It's most rewarding to get through to people and reassure them. The neuroimaging field stays fresh because every day is different. Meyer meets new people daily and has witnessed exciting new developments over the years, such as the introduction of the MRI and the development of ultrasound. "The fascinating thing about brain scanning," says Meyer, "is that you still can never tell what somebody is really thinking. At least not yet!"

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