‘Ageing robs people of cognitive flexibility’

What exactly happens in the brain and why does ageing occur? Is there a difference between genders? Does alternative therapy help slow the ageing process? These were some of the questions that neurologist Madhav Thambisetty of National Institute on Aging, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, explained to the audience on Sunday on a dialogue on ‘Ageing and Brain and Mind’. The outermost layer of the brain’s cortex begins to thin in human beings as they age. In people prone to conditions such as dementia or Alzheimer’s, the layer thins significantly faster. Dr. Thambisetty said MRI scans had shown that brain atrophy is universal, indicating that people lose their cognitive flexibility as they age.

Those who learnt different languages seemed to be protected against late-life cognitive destruction, he added.

Women have more cognitive resilience than men and thus age slower than men. They are better at language, executive abilities, whereas men outperform women in visual and spatial abilities, he explained.

Ennapadam.S. Krishnamoorthy, founder of Buddhi Clinic, which organised the dialogue, wondered if such conditions could be genetic. The deleterious effects of genes can be overcome by practising lifestyle modifications. Obesity, diabetes, hypertension could all impact the ageing of the brain, he added.

There are multiple interventions that target a variety of issues, he said. The emphasis on ayurveda and yoga, the use of substances such as turmeric or virgin coconut oil or ginseng, must be rigorously scientifically studied, Dr. Thambisetty said.

To a question from the audience on whether being active on social media harmed the elders, the expert said there was need to educate and safeguard them from scams.

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