December 05, 2007
Our Brains Become Less Synchronized As We Age And This Is Bad

Out of all the aspects of aging I hate brain aging most of all. My brain is who I am. I do not want to lose the intellectual abilities I currently possess. In fact, I want more brain power, not less. Well, a group of researchers at Harvard, Washington University of St. Louis, and University of Michigan have found that as we age different parts of the brain become less in sync with each other.

The researchers assessed brain function in a sample of adults ranging in age from 18 to 93 and comprising 38 young adults and 55 older adults. They did so using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which uses harmless radio waves and magnetic fields to measure blood flow in brain regions, which in turn reflects activity.

To assess the integrity of functional connections between brain areas, the researchers used fMRI to measure spontaneous low-frequency fluctuations known to reflect the activity of such connections. The researchers concentrated on large-scale connections between frontal and posterior brain regions that are associated with high-level cognitive functions such as learning and remembering.

The researchers reported a “dramatic reduction” in functional connections when they compared the younger and older groups.

I do not want to undergo a “dramatic reduction” in my brain's functional connections. If anyone doubts the desirability of development of rejuvenation therapies ask yourself whether you want to gradually lose parts of your brain and to become less able to think as you age. What aging costs you is far more than a less pretty appearance or a reduction in athletic ability. You aren't just gaining more aches and pains. You are losing parts of your mind.

The researchers also used an MRI technique called “diffusion tensor imaging” to measure the integrity of white matter in the brains of the subjects. This technique reveals details of the structure of brain tissue. Their analysis revealed that the reduced functional connection they detected in brain areas of the older subjects was correlated with decreased white matter integrity.

When the researchers tested the subjects’ cognitive function, they found that “Those individuals exhibiting the lowest functional correlation also exhibited the poorest cognitive test scores.”

The cognitive test score results tend to validate the use of the MRI techniques to measure brain conditions. Granted measured levels of brain activity are open to interpretation. But note that they didn't just measure brain activity. They measured quantity of white matter and connections.

I want my brain to stay in sync.

Among the older individuals, some of the subjects’ brains systems were correlated, and older individuals that performed better on psychometric tests were more likely to have brain systems that were in sync. These psychometric tests, administered in addition to the fMRI scanning, measured memory ability, processing speed and executive function.

Among older individuals whose brain systems did not correlate, all of the systems were not affected in the same way. Different systems process different kinds of information, including the attention system, used to pay attention, and the default system, used when the mind is wandering. The default system was most severely disrupted with age. Some systems do remain intact; for example, the visual system was very well preserved. The study also showed that the white matter of the brain, which connects the different regions of the brain, begins to lose integrity with age.

My guess is the decay in white matter is the cause of the decay in linkage between the parts of the brain.

The researchers used PET scans to measure amyloid plaque build-up in order to screen out people who were developing Alzheimer's Disease. They wanted to see how aging changes brains of people who are not developing Alzheimer's. So these results apply to us as we age even if we don't developer Alzheimer's.

The back and front of their brain become less well linked.

They focused on the links within two critical networks, one responsible for processing information from the outside world and one, known as the default network, which is more internal and kicks in when we muse to ourselves. For example, the default network is presumed to depend on two regions of the brain linked by long-range white matter pathways. The new study revealed a dramatic difference in these regions between young and old subjects. “We found that in young adults, the front of the brain was pretty well in sync with the back of the brain,” said Andrews-Hanna. “In older adults this was not the case. The regions became out of sync and they were less correlated with each other.” Interestingly, the older adults with normal, high correlations performed better on cognitive tests.

We need rejuvenation therapies. But first we need a society-wide awareness and acceptance of potential and need to develop rejuvenation therapies. Our minds are at stake.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 December 05 11:40 PM  Brain Aging


Comments
kurt9 said at December 6, 2007 8:47 AM:

This is the thing I have never understood about the people who oppose radical life extension. I mean, its obvious that aging sucks big time. So, the immediate visceral response one would expect in people would be to do anything possible to eliminate and avoid this process. Its very simple, you want to get rid of that which sucks.

Yet, you start talking about curing aging in a general group of people and always some of them just go nutso. My reaction to these people is like "WTF?". I mean, we're talking about eliminating something that sucks big time and these people go nutso.

I simply find the opponents of life extension to be completely incomprehensible to me.

Dog of Justice said at December 6, 2007 12:55 PM:

I simply find the opponents of life extension to be completely incomprehensible to me.

I can think of one legitimate argument against radical life extension -- it greatly increases the stability of dictatorships and the like. Without a biologically enforced "term limit," we plausibly would not enjoy many of the freedoms we have today.

However, with modern political technology, nigh-immortal vigilant citizens should be up to the task of solving this problem.

kurt9 said at December 6, 2007 2:09 PM:

Actually, I think radical life extension reduces the stability of dictatorships and large scale social institutions in general because it makes it easier for individuals to do stuff on their own. Young people take the risks of starting businesses and what not, because they have a more open future that allows them to pick up and carry on if they fail. Young people feel more empowered and, therefor, feel much less need for the kind of static social institutions that people tend to gravitate towards as they get older.Older people become risk averse and, therefor, become more supportive of the kinds of static human institutions that more analogous to dictatorships.

This is the reason why I'm convinced that radical life extension will make for a more dynamic open society based on bottom-up social networks rather than top-down hiearchial social institutions. We are talking about a society where people are "25 years old" forever. Think of places like SoCal in the 80's and Tokyo in the late 90's. A post-mortal society will be far more "bohemian" and "free-floating" than the kinds of societies we have today.

Any technology that empowers individuals and increases freedom and independence of the individual will, by definition, work to undermine hiearchial social institutions. This is one of the single best reasons to support radical life extension research.

Kavan said at December 6, 2007 6:08 PM:

'We are talking about a society where people are "25 years old" forever.'

I'm very curious how this society operates. When people stop dying, do we reach a certain point when this "bottom-up social network" is forced to impose some sort of limit on childbirth? Or have we already solved all issues related to sustainability, environment and population growth in this blissful MTV generation utopia?

Also, don't you think that the accumulated knowledge, experience and wisdom someone gains by living into so-called "old age" has a greater affect on that person's "risk-aversion" than the physical limitations of an older body? In other words, isn't it a little asinine to think that having a 25-year-old body is the key to empowerment and whatever else you think was so great about SoCal in the 80's and Tokyo in the late 90's? Not only is your point-of-view offensively ageist, but it's embarrassingly youth-centric. I'm sorry dude, but I can guarantee that science will not be able to halt the aging process at 25 years until you are well past that mark. You might want to think about enjoying the life you have more than worshipping the youth you will soon outgrow.

Brock said at December 6, 2007 6:27 PM:

Kavan:

RE: Population Control -- with properly functioning markets there will be no need for population control. The cost of that child will be predictable and known, and the people who choose to have that child will bear the costs. The population will self-regulate at a sustainable level.

We'll never 100% achieve that, because markets are never 100% perfect and because parents who just flat refuse to accept responsibility for their children can't be forced to earn sufficient money to make child care payments (and we certainly wouldn't euthanize children the way we do animals who aren't adopted), but we'll get 98% of the way there, and that's close enough.

RE: Risk Aversion -- accumulated knowledge does not make a person risk averse. Short pay-back time makes a person risk averse. Old people don't gamble their life savings because if they lose they don't have the time to earn it back before they're decrepit and cannot work anymore. Obviously this problem is solved by radical life extension. Also, the terms "ageist" and "youth centric" will have little meaning in a society where everyone is a "youth."


My thought about brain rejuvenation and upgrades is: I wonder what a real meritocracy will look like. Right now we don't have a pure meritocracy because certain people are just born with a whole host of advantages (IQ, musical or athletic talents, etc.). If we can cure dumb as easily as we can correct nearsightedness today, all those advantages go away. Frankly, sometimes I wonder if smart people will opposed "curing stupidity" because it threatens their oligopoly rents ...

Kavan said at December 6, 2007 6:48 PM:

Brock:
'The terms "ageist" and "youth centric" will have little meaning in a society where everyone is a "youth."'

Really? You don't think there will be any differentiation between generations just because everyone has a healthy body? Twenty-five-year-olds and 500-year-olds will share the same values, hopes, beliefs and aspirations -- just because they're equally healthy? Look at this way -- how much wealth and power do you think you could attain in 500 years? You don't think there will be any competition/tension/open warfare between 25-year-old "youth" youth and the 500-plus-year-old "old" youth? That just seems a bit naive for someone who obviously espouses a Hobbsian outlook on humanity.


kurt9 said at December 6, 2007 8:36 PM:

Brock is correct and Kavan is full of it.

Risk aversion exists because of requirment of short payback times as well as the perceived incapability of handling the possible failure. There is no other objective basis of risk aversion. Knowledge and experience is empowering and, thus, reduces rather than increases risk aversion. Anything that increases one ability to do more and varied things is empowering.

Knoweldge and experience makes one more capable of making more effective opportunity cost decisions. This does not equate to risk aversion.

Terms such as "ageism" and "youth-centric" are meaningless.

I stand by every one of the points I made in my previous post.

kurt9 said at December 6, 2007 8:46 PM:

I think this idea of making life extension a subject of political debate is as dumb as trying to make the same out of bodybuilding and cosmetic surgery. Both of the latter are things that people do for themselves and are not a subject of public debate. It is dumb tp think that it would be any different for life extension.

In other words, I don't give a flying f**k if the government, the church, theneighbor down the street, or some other a**hole person or group of persons thinks life extension is somehow "wrong". Its something I'm going to do anyways. Its my personal choice and, therefor, none of their f**king business anyways.

John Gordon said at December 6, 2007 8:51 PM:

It would be nice not to age, degenerate and die.

Unfortunately, I don't think we're going to avoid it.

I do think it's possible we'll be able to delay the normal process of brain degeneration for people who are 10 years old today. By the time they're 25 we might have a medication they'll be able to take for the rest of their life that will give them 10 more years of decent cognitive function.

The rest of us are not going to be so fortunate. I'm 48, and it's clear my brain is nowhere near as good as it was 23 years ago. (I'm actually far more effective than I was even five years ago, but that's all experience - not cognition. Soon the balance will tip.)

Which is why I find cheerful discussion of deferred retirement so curious. Yes, I won't retire until I'm 70. I'll be lucky, however, to have work bagging groceries ...

Toadal said at December 6, 2007 10:05 PM:

In regard to the lessening of probable brain desynchronization, pubmed provides promising clinical results with the use of Rhodiola rosea and Rhodiola rosea SHR-5. My personal experience is positive, especially my ability to sleep well again.

J.C. said at December 11, 2007 8:44 PM:

Kavan, consider this: in a scenario like Brock described, "older" generations would be free of worry of an inevitable, slow death by aging related damage and thus would have the full capacity of an agile mind to consider the thoughts, aspirations, etc... of "younger" generations in a more open and flexible mindset as opposed to the stubborn attitudes stereotypically characteristic of older generations today.

Huh said at December 13, 2007 10:15 AM:

Aging is horrible. Everyone thinks so, well at least everyone thinks so when their parts start to go. Even the proponents of aging - which is merely akin to being a proponent of disease - go through an egomaniacal panic attack when they spot a lick of gray hair. Heck I went through my own reality check when I was a teen and talked to my grandma. I remembered having such fond feelings about having a grandma and grandpa and I merely assumed that they enjoyed being old, and were old just to please me! I never conceived that they had any business wanting to be young again or that they could even fathom acting like anything but matrons... for instance they gave me the impression that the good old days was some sort of lost paradise. Then one day when I was older and less grounded in fantasy my grandma just up and revealed that growing old is the worst thing in the world and that I had it better than anybody in the family. This just revealed to me that everyone, even well meaning caregivers who appear done with life, hate the effects of aging. I also realized that the breakdown of this forced maternal state through life extension, i.e. no more grandmas to support babies and create a lasting impression of family legacy in the young, would be a threat to many stalwarts who would rather have us continue growing old and succumbing to age for the sake of preseving their entrenched concept of family for the next generation. Almost all arguments against life extension are flimsy and based on spurious assumptions. With many opponents of life extension you can read a tinge of hysteria, almost like they're angry that you've discovered a way around the "rules". In reality their opposition is just based on jealousy. They take the stance that life extension could only mean polluting the imaginary harmony they see in age enforced sexual roles. These sorts of people feel the need to dampen the sexual competition of society as a whole and see anything, even potential cures, as being a threat to the status quo. Life extension is an obvious threat to them because it will increase the reproductive opportunities of the individual over a much longer period of time, meaning that more people will be sexualized at any given time, and that the consequences of these sexual options will be magnified. Kind of like a nation of teenagers who do whatever they want.

Although I have to admit when reading these topics I look around the office at the older women and wonder what they'd look like if they were able to reverse the effects of time. Even more um... interesting is wondering what they would do with their new looks and newfound bursts of estrogen? I understand that many of these women grew up in the 50's, but when you hear them talk I wouldn't be suprised if they would revert to a MTV princess given the chance. It kind of grosses me out come to think of it, but oh well. Sorry if this post wasn't very scientific.

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