Art of Aging: The aging brain

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The internet has been buzzing with word that a form of dementia might have contributed to the suicide of comedian Robin Williams. (WPVI)

The internet has been buzzing with word that a form of dementia might have contributed to the suicide of comedian Robin Williams.

As Lisa Thomas-Laury reports, keeping our brains in good health is a big part in mastering the Art of Aging.

As we get older, changes occur in every part of the body. But few spark as much concern as changes in the brain.

"I lost my car keys, i forgot why i came into a room..."

Dr. Tom Graham, a Main Line Health neurologist, hears that all the time from people worried they're losing their mental edge. But he says don't worry - you're not losing your memory.

"It used to be said that people lost IQ as they get older. What they lose is speed."

Just like a computer, our brains also get over-stuffed with information - so we have a hard time finding the right mental file.

In addition, we're juggling much more than when we were 18.

"What college student has a spouse, has a mortgage, has 3 kids," says Dr. Graham.

"There's just so many more things on the plate, that kind of fill up our working memory," he continues.

He says most people who have dementia-related memory problems won't even realize they have them.

"It's not so much forgetting the answer to a question, but forgetting the question - and forgetting the question several times, over and over again.

For someone who DOES have thinking or memory problems, doctors first look at medical conditions that could be the cause - such as Vitamin B-12 deficiency, and even chronic, uncontrolled high blood pressure.

And not all dementias cause memory issues - they can have other signs - like getting lost - especially in familiar places...

Dr. Graham says in Alzheimer's, memory loss is often the first sign, but other dementias show other signs:

-Hallucinations - that's a sign of Lewy Body dementia...the type found in Robin Williams
-Not being able to put words or sentences together
-Or even walking problems

Dr. Graham says to keep a healthy brain...."Keep a healthy body."

And an active brain - try new things, whether it's a craft, exercise, or music.

"Don't just read good things, discuss them with others, continue solving problems -whether it's a new piece of music, or playing bridge.

Dr. Graham pointed to studies which have shown tai chi is good for both body and mind.

Finally, he says studies show older really IS wiser - that problem-solving skills get better as the years go on.

For more information, go to the Art of Aging section.

Related Topics:
healthseniorsart of aginghealthcheckalzheimers
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