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Neuroscience For Kids

The Nervous System in Old Age

In the last 100 years, there has been a dramatic increase in the population of elderly (age 65 years and older) people. As shown in the graph, elderly people in the US made up only 4.1% of the population in 1900, but 8.1% in 1950 and 12.8% in 1995. By 2050, it is estimated that 20% of the population will be 65 years old or older. This increase in the elderly population and the high incidence of age-related neurological disorders make it important to understand how the human brain ages. graph
Data from Malmgren, R., in Textbook
of Geriatric Neuropsychiatry
, 2000.

To investigate the changes that the brain undergoes during aging, neuroscientists use brain imaging methods to observe the anatomy and physiology of the living brain. Scientists can also study autopsy specimens to investigate how the brain changes over time.

Brain Changes

Changes in the Senses




Impairment in the ability to taste may be caused by:


Hearing loss in the elderly may result from:


Age-related changes in the ability to perceive tactile stimuli may be due to:

For more information on the aging nervous system, see:

  1. The American Psychiatric Press Textbook of Geriatric Neuropsychiatry, edited by C. E. Coffey, J. L. Cummings, Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press, 2000.
  2. Hampton, J.K., Craven, R.F., and Heitkemper, M.M. The Biology of Human Aging, Dubuque: Wm. C. Brown, 1997.
  3. Hooper, C.R., Sensory and sensory integrative development, in Functional Performance in Older Adults, edited by B.R. Bonder and M.B. Wagner, Philadelphia: F.A. Davis Company, 2001, pp. 121-136.

Copyright © 1996-2008, Eric H. Chudler, University of Washington