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Chapter: Essentials of Anatomy and Physiology: The Nervous System

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Aging and the Nervous System

The aging brain does lose neurons, but this is only a small percentage of the total and not the usual cause of mental impairment in elderly people.

AGING AND THE NERVOUS SYSTEM

 

The aging brain does lose neurons, but this is only a small percentage of the total and not the usual cause of mental impairment in elderly people. (Far more com-mon causes are depression, malnutrition, hypotension, and the side effects of medications.) Some forgetful-ness is to be expected, however, as is a decreased abil-ity for rapid problem solving, but most memory should remain intact. Voluntary movements become slower, as do reflexes and reaction time. Think of driv- ing a car, an ability most of us take for granted. For elderly people, with their slower perceptions and reac-tion times, greater consciousness of driving is necessary.

 

As the autonomic nervous system ages, dry eyes and constipation may become problems. Transient hypo-tension may be the result of decreased sympathetic stimulation of vasoconstriction. In most cases, how-ever, elderly people who are aware of these aspects of aging will be able to work with their physicians or nurses to adapt to them.


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