Benefits of Maintaining Brain Health

Older woman teaching her granddaughter chess

The brain controls many aspects of thinking — from remembering to planning, organizing, making decisions, and more.

As people age, changes in thinking abilities can diminish the ability to perform everyday tasks and live independently. Maintaining brain health is essential to allowing older adults to think clearly, live independently and engage in activities they enjoy most.

While successful aging is defined as aging without changes in memory or thinking skills that affect activities of daily living, some changes in thinking are common as people get older. For example, older adults may:

  • Have difficulty finding the right words or recalling names;
  • Find they struggle with multitasking; and
  • Experience mild decreases in the ability to pay attention.

Positive Aging Outcomes

Aging may also bring positive cognitive changes.

For example, many studies have shown that older adults have more extensive vocabularies and greater knowledge than younger adults. Older adults also have wisdom from a lifetime of accumulated knowledge and experiences. This knowledge and wisdom can help maintain brain health as people age, but how it helps is something researchers are actively trying to understand.

Despite the changes in cognition that may come with age, older adults also tend to be able to manage their emotions and navigate complex social interactions better than younger adults.

Changes in the Aging Brain

As a person gets older, changes occur in all parts of the body, including the brain. Some of the changes in the brain include:

  • Certain parts of the brain shrink, especially those important for learning and other complex mental activities.
  • In certain brain regions, communication between neurons (nerve cells) may not be as effective.
  • Blood flow in the brain may decrease.
  • Inflammation, which occurs when the body responds to an injury or disease, may increase.

These changes in the brain can affect cognitive function, even in healthy older people. For example, some older adults may find that they don’t do as well as younger individuals on complex memory or learning tests. However, if given enough time to learn a new task, they usually perform just as well. Needing that extra time is normal as we age.

There is growing evidence that the brain maintains the ability to change and adapt so that people can manage new challenges and tasks as they age.