Although reductions in processing speed and memory efficiency are evident by middle age, there are some ways the brain improves with age. By the seventh or eighth decade of life, a lifetime of experience is encoded in the brain’s neural networks. A lifetime of synaptic strengthening suggests better connectivity across the brain, better integration of different brain areas. This translates into a more comprehensive understanding of the world in which we live. Moreover, enhanced cortical control of limbic responses supports a more thoughtful response to emotion. We know that impulsivity, violence, and recklessness decrease with age. We also value age and life experience when appointing people into positions of leadership. In late old age, however, such as the ninth or tenth decade of life, these strengths can be eclipsed by the degeneration of brain tissue and the elderly may become considerably constricted in their independent functioning. Nonetheless, there are more than a few people who remain healthy and vigorous even into their nineties.
Alzheimer’ disease is in many ways more frightening than other diseases as it robs one of his or her memories and ability to do daily, simple tasks (iStock).