Brain Science - The Good News
Science and Your Long Life Brain
The Good News
The good news is... Well, for a start, the neuritic plaques and neurofibrillary tangles I previously described are by no means an inevitable consequence of brain ageing. Studies of people who have lived well into their nineties, for example, have found no trace of them.
What about brain shrinkage and cell loss?
Surely such physical deterioration and the death of millions of irreplaceable brain cells must have a drastic effect on function.
The reassuring answer is not necessarily.
Superabundant brain cells
It is certainly true that brain cells die in large numbers every day from around the age of twenty onwards, with some 50,000 perishing daily and contributing to the shrinkage I described of between 10 and 15 percent. Fortunately we have such a superabundance of cells, estimated at 100 billion, that even this seemingly high rate of attrition is of no practical significance provided we protect those billions of cells remaining through a health promoting lifestyle.
Furthermore, some parts of the brain continue to grow throughout life. The dendrites (thread like extensions of the neurons which make contact with other cells) are continuously replaced. So too, recent research has shown, are some of the neurons in regions crucial to forming, retaining and recollecting memories.
Lifelong healthy brain function
This growing body of good news is why previous pessimism is giving way to optimism among many gerontologists (specialists in ageing) and neuroscientists specialising in brain ageing. There is now an increasing acceptance of the idea that, with good housekeeping, the brain can continue to function healthily and at a high level far, far longer than was previously believed.
What do I mean by ‘good housekeeping’?