By Flavie Detcheverry / 2022-01-07
Aging is a normal part of life, and just like the rest of the body, the brain changes as we get older. In normal aging, most people will eventually experience some changes in the way they think, like slower processing speeds or certain types of memory loss, although skills and knowledge tend to remain stable or are even improved over time. The brain changes underlying decline in function are collectively known as neurodegeneration, which is the progressive loss of structure or function of neurons. While everyone experiences some degree of neurodegeneration in their lifetime, it can sometimes happen too quickly or too severely, becoming pathological. Pathological brain aging can range from mild cognitive impairment, which involves more difficulties than normal aging but does not significantly impact the life of the individual, to a more profound loss of mental ability, known as dementia, that severely impacts the affected individual’s ability to live independently.
Dementia can be associated with a number of neurodegenerative diseases. The most commonly known is Alzheimer’s disease. During the progression of these age-related diseases, the individual’s physical and mental condition worsen over time, and the patients’ quality of life often deteriorates rapidly. Almost everyone knows someone who is affected by dementia, whether it is a neighbor, a friend, or a family member, and knows how difficult these diseases can be, not only for the person with the disease, but also for their caregivers. Unfortunately, this will only become more common because, as life expectancy increases over time, so does the number of people suffering from a neurodegenerative disease. Because of this, neurodegenerative diseases are not only a personal health issue, but also have considerable social and economic consequences, costing billions of dollars each year. For these reasons, it is important that we continue to invest in research on dementia and neurodegeneration so that we can better understand and treat disease progression and support those who are affected by it.