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.