What Is Normal Aging

Even in the face of these changes in brain structure and function, studies of successful aging in the oldest of the old, centenarians, have taught us that disruptive cognitive decline is not an inevitable part of the aging process. There is a tremendous range of variability in how we age. In fact, many neuroscientists disagree about the entire notion of normal aging.

At one end of the spectrum, there are researchers who view normal aging and degenerative brain diseases, such as Alzheimer's, as parts of a continuum. This view is supported by the finding that some people who do not exhibit memory problems during the aging process still have the hallmark biological features of Alzheimer's disease in their brains on autopsy. Although the extent of these disease features is substantially smaller than in people who exhibit memory problems, the presence of these features is viewed as evidence that each and every one of us would eventually develop Alzheimer's disease if we lived long enough.

At the other end of the spectrum are researchers who argue that the distinction between normal aging and disease is not simply a matter of degree. They maintain that disease is disease and normalcy is normalcy and ne'er the twain shall meet. This point of view is supported by the finding that there are many elderly people who continue into their nineties and beyond with only a subtle decline in memory. Furthermore, autopsy findings in some of these high-functioning elders reveal their brains to be surprisingly free of disease.

For our purposes, it doesn't really matter which side of the debate is right. Either way, you can still achieve an optimal memory. In the optimal approach, we focus on the best ways to preserve and enhance memory throughout life.

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