We’re all getting older every day, and scientific research has shown that starting in our twenties, some brain functions begin a linear decline. Even if we avoid diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, parts of the brain inevitably shrink, replicating cells become damaged, and fluid processing skills such as multitasking and episodic memory worsen. But is old age all doom and gloom? Are we destined for senescence once we’re barely out of adolescence?
Not at all! While it’s true that some functions in the aging brain decline, neuroscientists have discovered that many other brain functions remain stable—or even improve—as we age. Furthermore, nurture plays as significant a role as nature, and there are a number of strategies you can implement to stave off declining brain function, including:
- Incorporating physical activity into your routine
- Eating a healthy diet
- Maintaining a vibrant social life
- Reducing your stress
The science behind the aging brain tells a fascinating—and often counterintuitive—story. Is “aging” a disease, or merely a natural occurrence that produces disease-like symptoms? If humans are biologically programmed to survive and thrive, why do we age at all? Is it possible (or even desirable) to “cure” aging altogether? Delve into these questions and more in The Aging Brain. Taught by Professor Thad Polk, a neuroscientist and award-winning professor at the University of Michigan, these twelve eye-opening lectures will give you a wealth of new insights into what happens to the brain over time—as well as strategies to mitigate the effects of aging and enhance your quality of life into old age.
With a mix of scientific research and practical applications, Professor Polk brings cutting-edge science to life. He takes you down to the cellular and even molecular level of the brain to show you why certain functions decline, how some aspects of brain aging are under genetic control, and what you can do to prolong your health and keep your mind sharp. Aging affects us all, but as you will learn in The Aging Brain, you have some control over how it affects you.
Explore the Science of Aging
Professor Polk is a practicing researcher in the field of neuroscience, and he brings his experience and knowledge into this course to give you a rigorous introduction to the science of aging. Without shying away from the complexity, he provides a lucid explanation of everything from physiology to genetics to stem cell research. Among other topics, you will study:
- The biology of aging: Much of the physical decline in aging derives from the basic mechanisms underlying metabolism, from molecules called free radicals that steal electrons from other molecules, and from accumulating damage to DNA. Learn about these mechanisms and what may help combat them.
- Changes to the brain: With the advent of new imaging techniques, it is now possible to study brain structure as well as brain activity while subjects perform various tasks. Such studies have revealed that changes in the brain can actually shed light on why some cognitive functions decline with age, while others don’t. Explore this fascinating field and gain new insight into how your brain can reorganize itself to help you age more gracefully.
- Diseases and conditions: Dementia, depression, stroke, and other conditions are notorious dangers as we age. Find out what causes brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, learn how they are treated, and consider the role of nature versus nurture in preventing them.
- Future therapies: Is it possible to prevent aging altogether? Take a look into the future to predict what results we might one day see from gene therapy and stem cell research. Consider the risks of such possibilities, both to our bodies and to society.
Learn How to Keep Your Mind Healthy
Growing older may be inevitable, but there is much we can do to fight senescence. By studying communities where people tend to live exceptionally long lives, using brain scanning technologies such as fMRIs, and conducting longitudinal studies of the population, researchers have uncovered a wealth of information about staying healthy and keeping the mind sharp.
- Memory: There are better ways to learn and retain information than rote memorization. Professor Polk shows you how to build a memory house and how to employ visual and spatial thinking as well as deep processing in order to improve your memory.
- Physical Activity: Everyone knows that exercise can help keep your body fit, but scientific studies are now revealing that it can also substantially improve your cognitive functioning—while reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and other brain disorders.
- Diet: The Mediterranean diet and other diets that include plenty of fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains have been shown to improve cognitive well-being. In fact, the results from one research study were so dramatic that the study had to be cancelled mid-way through, as it was deemed unethical to keep the control group on a diet of processed foods.
- Socialization: Humans are social creatures, and we need a sense of purpose. There is a strong correlation between communities with strong social bonds and longer lifespans.
In other words, stay active, eat well, and build a deep social network. This is great advice for people of all ages, but it’s even more important as you get older. With what you learn from The Aging Brain, you can face the challenges of aging with comprehension and confidence, armed with knowledge to help you live a longer, healthier, and more enjoyable life.