Article by: riley
Estimated 11 minutes read

As we get older, it's pretty common to start noticing changes in our bodies. Our joints crack more, our eyesight starts to fail, and we can't quite keep up with the "youngsters" like before. But have you ever stopped to wonder how aging affects our nervous system? 

As we age, our bodies undergo a series of changes, and our nervous system is no exception. It's a complex and critical system that helps us to process and respond to the world around us. 

However, over time, this intricate system can begin to show signs of wear and tear. For instance, reaction times slow, our memory might not be as sharp, and our ability to multitask fades. But that's just the tip of the iceberg.

In this post, we'll discuss how our nervous system changes over time and what we can do to keep it healthy. 

Hand touching brain and network connection on glitter bright lights colorful background nervous system concept

What is the Nervous System?

The nervous system is a complex and intricate network of the body's communication system. It comprises two main parts - the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS). 

The CNS is your central control center and consists of your brain and spinal cord. Meanwhile, your PNS are the nerves that extend from the brain and spinal cord around your body.

The nervous system is further divided into various parts, each with its own unique function. As the body's command center, the brain is the largest and most complex part of the nervous system. It's responsible for processing, interpreting, and coordinating information from different parts of the body.

The spinal cord, on the other hand, is a long, cylindrical structure that runs from the brainstem down to the lower back. It acts as a pathway for nerve impulses between the brain and the rest of the body.

The PNS, divided into the autonomic and somatic nervous systems, controls involuntary and voluntary body functions, respectively. The autonomic nervous system controls functions like heart rate, digestion, and respiratory rate. The somatic nervous system regulates movement and sensation.

As you age, several changes occur within your nervous system, many of which are completely normal. We'll take a closer look at these changes below.

How Does Aging Affect the Nervous System?

Aging affects all of our bodily systems, but perhaps the most noticeable changes occur within the nervous system. We lose up to 10,000 nerve cells a day, and since nerve cells don't reproduce, they can't be replaced. 

The loss of nerve cells leads to a decrease in the function of the nervous system, which varies depending on the individual and the specific cells lost.

As we age, our brain and spinal cord also lose nerve cells and weight, which can cause nerve messages to pass more slowly. To make matters worse, waste products and chemicals can collect in the brain tissue, forming abnormal changes like plaques and tangles.

These changes in the brain can affect our senses, causing problems with movement and balance. We may even experience a slowing of thought and memory, although the degree of change varies from person to person.

Interestingly, according to emerging research, one factor that may contribute to cognitive decline in aging is a loss of testosterone. Preliminary evidence suggests that testosterone loss may be a risk factor for dementia. As you can see, individual variables like this are important when evaluating one's overall risk for age-related neurological decline. 

Effects of Aging on the Nervous System

Ah, the joys of getting older. The wisdom, the experience, the...slower processing speed? Yes, unfortunately, as we age, our nervous system goes through some changes that can impact our cognitive functions. 

Now that you know more about the science behind why our nervous system changes as we age, let's look at some of the specific effects you might notice popping up in your day-to-day life.

1. Decreased Mental Flexibility

This refers to our ability to adjust to changing circumstances, solve problems, and think abstractly. As we age, some parts of our brain responsible for mental flexibility shrink and show a decline in functioning. Learning new skills and integrating new information into our existing knowledge base becomes more challenging.

2. Poorer Working Memory

Working memory is the ability to hold and manipulate information in our minds for short periods of time. As we age, our working memory can start to decline, leading to difficulties with things like remembering a phone number long enough to dial it or recalling a series of instructions. 

What's interesting - and perhaps a dash of good news amidst a slew of bad - is that not all aspects of cognition and memory are equal. Semantic memory, which includes things like vocabulary and factual knowledge, remains largely intact. 

In fact, some studies have suggested that this type of memory, also known as "crystallized intelligence," may even improve with age. So, if you're someone who loves to spout off random trivia facts, you're in luck. 

Verbal skills also tend to remain strong throughout life, though episodic memory (which includes autobiographical memories) may decline. So, you might struggle to remember what you had for breakfast yesterday, but you should still be able to say what you want to say. 

3. Slower Processing Speed 

One of the most noticeable effects of aging on the nervous system is a decrease in processing speed. It's like our internal computer is starting to run a bit slower. As a result, it takes us longer to react to things happening around us, to process information, and to make decisions. 

This decrease in processing speed is typically the most noticeable in complex tasks that require a lot of attention, creativity, or problem-solving - things that we might have taken for granted in our younger days.

4. Reduced Ability for Sustained or Divided Attention

Another effect of aging on the nervous system is a decrease in the ability to sustain or divide our attention. It's like our internal spotlight is getting dimmer, making it harder to focus on multiple things at once. 

This is why older adults may struggle with tasks requiring them to juggle multiple pieces of information or switch between tasks quickly - multitasking is a lot harder. It's also why they may be more easily distracted by things happening in their environment.

5. Affected Cranial Nerves

Many people assume that neurological functioning refers simply to our thoughts and memory, but it also affects a few other aspects of our well-being - namely, our vision and hearing.

The cranial nerves are a set of nerves that emerge directly from the brain and control functions related to our senses (like vision, hearing, and smell) as well as our motor control and autonomic functions (like breathing and digestion). 

Age-related stiffening of the lens can cause near-vision problems, and a newfound, much slower adjustment to low-light conditions can make it harder to see in dimly lit environments. 

Older adults may also experience a decrease in color discrimination and depth perception, as well as a reduced ability to detect contrast or fine details. Together, these changes can lead to a reduction in visual acuity, making it harder to see clearly.

Hearing loss is another common issue that affects many older adults. As we age, the hairs in our inner ear (which are responsible for transmitting sound information to the brain) tend to get damaged or die off, leading to a decrease in our ability to hear high-pitched sounds and to distinguish between different sounds that are close together.

6. Poorer Reflexes

As we age, our reflexes can become slower and less accurate. This is because the neurons that control our reflexes lose some of their efficiency over time. This is most noticeable in the deep tendon reflexes at the ankles - up to 30% of adults over 80 may experience a decrease in these reflexes. 

However, this isn't necessarily cause for alarm - other deep tendon reflexes are usually preserved. 

Interestingly, some so-called "pathological" reflexes (such as the palmo-mental, glabellar, and snout reflexes) may actually be present in healthy older adults. It's unclear why this is, but keeping an eye on changes to these reflexes over time can help identify any underlying neurological issues.

7. Reduced Reaction Time

Have you noticed that you're not as quick to react as you used to be? Unfortunately, this is another common effect of aging on the nervous system. Reduced reaction time can make everyday tasks - like catching a ball or stopping suddenly - more difficult and even dangerous. 

8. Depression

There are many factors that can contribute to depression in older adults - from physical health problems to social isolation - but brain changes related to aging may also play a role. For example, the brain's prefrontal cortex (which helps regulate emotions) tends to shrink with age, which may make it harder for older adults to regulate their moods. 

How to Combat the Effects of an Aging Nervous System

Are you starting to feel like your nervous system is getting up there in age? Don't worry - you can do plenty of things to combat these changes and keep your nervous system feeling young and spry.

1. Focus on Integrating Plenty of Exercise

First things first, get moving! Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your nervous system. 

Aerobic exercise and strength training can not only help combat depression (a common side effect of these nervous system changes). Still, they can also prevent sarcopenia, the loss of muscle mass and strength that can come with aging.

2. Give Yourself Time to Process Information

As we age, our brains sometimes take a little longer to process new information, so don't be too hard on yourself if you find yourself needing a little extra time to read that article or understand that new concept.

3. Eat a Healthy Diet

Focus on incorporating plenty of leafy greens and following a Mediterranean-style diet to ensure you get all the essential nutrients for neurological functioning, like phylloquinone, folate, and lutein.

4. Improve the Lighting in Your Home

As we age, our eyesight worsens, and poor lighting can make things even more difficult. Ensure your home is well-lit to avoid slips, trips, or falls.

5. Evaluate Your Fall Risk and Do Preventative Exercises

Speaking of falls, it's important to evaluate your fall risk and do some preventive exercises. Strengthening your muscles and improving your balance can go a long way in preventing accidents.

6. Sit Where You Can See a Speaker's Face 

When you're in a situation where you need to listen carefully and understand what's being said (whether it's an important work meeting or just catching up with friends), position yourself where you can see the speaker's face. 

Seeing someone's facial expressions and body language can help give you cues and context that make it easier to understand what they're saying.

7. Get Enough Sleep

Not getting enough shut-eye can seriously affect your brain function and overall well-being. Ensure you're getting the recommended amount of sleep and addressing any underlying sleep disorders.

8. Consider Doing Meditation

Consider adding meditation to your routine as well. Vipassana meditation, in particular, is especially effective in improving brain function.

9. Do Mental Exercises

Just like we exercise our bodies, we must also exercise our minds. Doing mental exercises like puzzles, reading, and having conversations can help keep our brains sharp.

10. Understand Normal vs. Abnormal Changes to the Brain and Consult Your Doctor

It's also important to understand the difference between normal versus abnormal changes to the brain and to consult with your doctor if you notice anything concerning. Keeping an eye out for conditions like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, diabetes, and atherosclerosis is key. 

And because preliminary research suggests that testosterone levels and other hormones can play a role in cognitive health, it's worth getting your hormones tested if you're worried about any of these cognitive symptoms. 

Final Thoughts

From decreased cognitive function to decreased motor control, it's important to understand how aging affects this critical system in our bodies. 

But the good news is that there are ways to mitigate these effects. Whether through exercise, a healthy diet, or TRT and ED treatments, taking care of your overall health can help keep your nervous system functioning at its best. 

And if you're looking for a trusted source for men's health treatments, look no further than Male Excel. Our TRT treatments have helped countless men get back on track and achieve their goals, and we can work with you to develop a comprehensive plan that leaves you feeling younger than ever. 

Don't let aging get you down - take charge of your health and keep the nervous system in top shape. 

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