• Question: Various impairments of the mind are commonly associated with old age. To what extent are these biological in origin? To what extent, social in origin?

    Asked by dear493hug to Rowanne, Nikoleta, Jess, Emma, Anu on 7 Nov 2023.
    • Photo: Nikoleta Vavouraki

      Nikoleta Vavouraki answered on 7 Nov 2023:

      That’s a great question! We still don’t know the full answer yet! For some diseases we know it’s mostly environmental (anything outside our bodies). In other diseases it’s mostly genetic (if someone has a specific genetic alteration they have high chances of developing a disease) and some are mixed! As far as I am aware, the same applies for diseases related to the brain. Some disease that are related to the cardiovascular system (e.g., some forms of dementia) are effected by environmental factors more than other forms. There is a hypothesis at the moment that Parkinson’s (a disease that affects our movement and also our mind) might start from the gut and that maybe nutrition might play a role. These are difficult diseases to study as they usually start many years before we diagnose someone (understand that somebody has the disease).

    • Photo: Anu Shivalikanjli

      Anu Shivalikanjli answered on 8 Nov 2023: last edited 8 Nov 2023 9:38 am

      Actually both biological and social origins! These changes are part of the natural aging process, and while they vary among individuals, they are often related to the following factors:

      Biological Origins can be (a) Neurological Changes- As people age, there is reduction in the number of neurons (brain cells), decreased production of neurotransmitters, and changes in brain structures. These changes can affect cognitive functions like memory, attention, and processing speed. (b) Neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s and forms of dementia are more common in older individuals. They have clear biological origins, often involving the accumulation of abnormal proteins in the brain. (c) Cardiovascular Health: Age-related changes in the cardiovascular system may lead to reduced blood flow to the brain and can add to cognitive impairments, especially if there are risk factors like high blood pressure or atherosclerosis. (d) Hormonal Changes: a decrease in estrogen or testosterone, can impact cognitive function and mood in older adults. and (e) Diet!! – diet affects gut microbiota and lack of nutrition disrupt many systems including immune, learning, brain health mechanisms.

      Social origins can escalate the decline of mind function. For example – lack of mental stimulation and physical inactivity can negatively impact cognitive function.Staying mentally and physically active is important for maintaining cognitive health. Learning new things can help in delaying impairments.