We're all concerned about our memories, especially as we age. Do you know why our memory changes? It has to do with brain cell connections in the brain.
When we are as young as 20 years of age, our brain cells connections begin to decline and by age 45 they are declining very rapidly. This can lead to more frequent forgetfulness, poor concentration and slower reaction times.
We asked Dr. Bruce Daggy, Adjunct Professor in the Nutrition, Food, and Exercise Sciences Department of Florida State University to answer questions about what normal changes in brain functionare, and when we should go to the doctor to see if we have a problem.
In this first of a two-part interview, we're talking about what happens to our brains that can cause us to become more forgetful. Next week we will look at what we can do to help us remember.
What is happening physically in the brain that causes our brain to make us more forgetful?
Dr. Bruce Daggy:
Our brains peak in volume at about age 20, and then slowly begin to shrink. After about age 50, that rate of shrinkage accelerates. Typically this is due to the loss of connections between the brain cells or neurons.
Neurons are designed to communicate with each other, and each one is in contact with hundreds or thousands of its neighbors. It is via these connected pathways that we store memories and process information.
As we age, we are slowly losing these connections. Also, our brains demand a lot from the circulatory system.
Although the brain is only about 2 percent of body weight, it can demand 20 percent or more of the blood circulation. All that chatter between the brain cells requires plenty of oxygen and nutrients from the blood supply.
As your cardiovascular system ages, it can impact the brain as well. And disease processes that we don’t associate with the brain, like type 2 diabetes, also increase the risk to brain health.
Do people need to be worried about forgetting things?
Dr. Bruce Daggy:
Worrying about it might only make things worse. Anxiety and stress are not good for memory.