Brave New Brains

Centenarians, individuals one hundred years old or older, are the fastest-growing age group in the United States with experts predicting that there may be as many as 1 million by the year 2050 according to The Scientific American Brave New Brain: How Neuroscience, Brain-Machine Interfaces, Neuroimaging, Psychopharmacology, Epigenetics, the Internet, and Our … and Enhancing the Future of Mental Power by Judith Horstman.  If you are sixty years old or younger today, you could be included in that group.

People age eighty and older are the fastest growing segment of the populations in many countries.  By 2040, the National Institute on Aging says the number of people sixty-five or older (myself included) worldwide will hit a staggering 1.3 billion.  For the first time in human history, within the next ten years, the number of people sixty-five and older will be greater than the number of children under the age of five.  That is a lot of old brains!

The Congress of the United States declared the 1990’s to be “The Decade of the Brain” sponsoring a variety of activities and cutting-edge research on the brain.  Today, billions of dollars are being expended on brain research with special emphasis on dementia, memory loss, and other age-related conditions because of the aging population.

This focus has paid off with new discoveries and a much better understanding of the brain.  In the book, Horstman writes that “We’ve learned more about the brain in the past fifty years than in the preceding fifty thousand, and the cooperation of sciences over the next two decades may even surpass that record.”  Brain science is big business.

In the book, she provides interesting information about the brain comparing what was thought then, what is known now, and what might be tomorrow:

 

  • Then   Your brain cells are finite: you only have so many, and they cannot be replaced when they die.
  • Now   Your brain makes new neurons in some areas.
  • Next   New neurons are created at will, where and when you need them.
  • Then  Your brain is hardwired like a computer.
  • Now  Your brain is changing every second in response to the environment and your mind.
  • Next  You change and mold your brain as you want and need.
  • Then  Brain, mind, and body are separate.
  • Now  Brain, mind, and body are intertwined.
  • Next  Brain, mind, and body are enhanced by machines and computers.
  • Then  Each part of your brain has a specific function.
  • Now  Your brain is networked, like a village of skilled workers supporting one another.
  • Next  You direct new brain networks for desired outcomes.
  • Then  Memory is accurate and unchanging.
  • Now  Memory is changeable.  Events are “recollected” in a new context and slightly changed.
  • Next  Memory is manipulated.  You can keep memories you want and erase the ones you don’t.
  • Then  Alzheimer’s disease and loss of brain function are inevitable parts of aging.
  • Now  Active brains retain more function than inactive ones, even in some very elderly people.
  • Next   Alzheimer’s disease is reversible even curable in many cases.
  • Then  Surgery is the best way to repair an injured brain.
  • Now  Noninvasive methods and drugs are preferred to surgery for repairing a brain.
  • Next  Technology has made surgery obsolete except in the most severe cases.
  • Then  Consciousness is a mystery.
  • Now  Consciousness is a mystery.
  • Next Consciousness is a mystery.

 

10 Comments

  1. Stephen Gemmell Reply

    Hi Debbie, love the final information set on consciousness. “Anything that we are aware of at a given moment forms part of our consciousness, making conscious experience at once the most familiar and most mysterious aspect of our lives.” (Max Velmans and Susan Schneider wrote in The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness). How true. But at the same time, it is consciousness or awareness that lead and inspire authors like Judy Horstmann. Fascinating. Take care, Stephen

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      I like the quote. I am not sure it would behoove us to figure out consciousness completely. I think, it is the elusive mystery of this that keeps man motivated to know more, to do better and to believe in a little bit of magic or a higher, greater power in the universe.

  2. Debbie – I think a lot of brain research is moving towards figuring out consciousness. It’s a mystery I would like to learn more about. Thanks for the review! Brains are fascinating (people should use them more) 🙂

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Vishnu, I agree wholeheartedly, a brain is a terrible thing to waste! 🙂

  3. My grandmother will be turning 101 next month. She still cooks and cleans for my mother and has no intention of dying anytime soon. The only medication she takes is for high blood pressure. Both my parents are 81 and still quite active, including sexually, per my mother. Thanks mom. That was just too much information. I can’t imagine dying or suffering from some “old age” disease. I keep my mind and body active so know that I am developing new neurons and memories. I also eact quite healthy. Eating healthy, staying active physically and intellectually, and not taking any medication I believe are ways that we all can live longer. Thanks for sharing the new scientific evidence.

    Tony

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Wow. Sounds like you come from good genes and that your elders are living right. I applaud them for staying active….even sexually…into older age. I fully believe my best days are ahead of me in all ways. I am doing everything that I can to make sure of this mentally and physically. I am planning to hit my sexual peak in my fifties! 🙂 I want to spend my years from here on out living fully, not declining.

      Good for you for adopting a lifestyle to encourage healthy aging. There is much research to show that this is largely a by product of our lifestyle and can greatly be influenced. I plan to be right there with you!

  4. I’m of two brains about this topic. It’s still undetermined whether consciousness requires a nervous system (i.e. a brain). If it does, then there’s a shelf life, because nerve tissue is (as yet, and for the foreseeable future) completely irreplaceable. I enjoyed your final trilogy about the mystery of consciousness in a literary sense, though I disagree somewhat on the basis of fact. It’s less of a mystery than it used to be. We might even plausibly call fMRI a method to “map” consciousness, and track its limits when resident in flesh.

    Your own recovery has been facilitated by a combination of not only your will, Debbie, but also by the extreme redundancy built into human brain tissue. We don’t even know how much extra there is, but it’s at least 1/3, and the current prevailing opinion is that it evolved that way because there’s no feasible way to manufacture any more.

    The statistical curve correlating Alzheimer’s (and other types of dementia) and age is pretty obvious. It zooms up like a rocket during the 80s. Brain tissue is very efficient, and highly adaptive, but it still ultimately wears out. I have a hard time imagining any kind of mitigation for that, because there isn’t any hard evidence trending that way. All our efforts are aimed at slowing the disease and entropy process, and they aren’t very effective compared to the relentlessness of that curve. Still, there are many way to maximize quality of life, as I know you advocate. Those are all worth our efforts.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Thank you for you thoughtful and informative comment, Mikey. Hooray for the redundancy built into brain tissue! While there may become a method for artificially manufacturing brain tissue, it is certainly a finite resource within one individual. For this reason, it makes sense to make the most of and to take the best care of what we have because, as you say, the relentlessness of the curve of disease and aging.

      I am not sure that this is not a good thing or, at least, as it should be. I do not believe I would want to live forever even if I could. Who is to say that something better, an enlightening new journey, awaits beyond this life?

  5. Hi Debbie,
    This is a very good post on the brain. Knowledge about the brain and the body is changing every day and what we know about the body today will be obsolete by tomorrow.

    My favorite brain foods are avocados and raw nuts, perhaps some flaxseed oil as well.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Hey , Jason. Thank you for the kind words! It will be very interesting to see what new developments will be ahead on the brain and body fronts. I bet it will be seem like science fiction. Some of it already does.

      I am kinda obsessed with the brain healthy diet thing. I am having my organic granola now with almond milk. I add walnuts, almonds, flax seed, blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries. My brain is happy and it tastes good! I love avocados and many brain foods, fortunately.

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