Brain changes with age

The volume of the gray matter, which represents the total number of brain cells, reaches its peak during childhood, at about the age of 7.

Brain scan data from multiple studies representing 101,457 brains at all stages of life identified the thickness of the cerebral cortex peaks at about age two. brain changes

The cerebral cortex is involved in processes such as perception, language and consciousness.

The volume of the gray matter, which represents the total number of brain cells, reaches its peak during childhood, at about the age of 7.

White matter, which is made up of the connections between neurons that allow areas of the brain to communicate quickly, is at its highest volume around age 30, and begins to decline in later adulthood.

Different parts of the brain, such as areas involved in vision versus speech, reach their own milestones at different points in life.

Complex genetic, cellular, and functional changes underly the structural changes. 

The brain is built to change throughout the lifetime and meets the challenges posed by each stage of life.

Infancy: From birth to two years old the brain absorbs environmental information, especially from parents or caregivers. 

In the first year for example, babies can learn any language, but this ability quickly diminishes based on the sounds or signs they hear or see. 

This rapid adjustment explains  why it can be much more difficult to learn new languages ​​later in life.

Most neurons are formed at birth, and other types of brain cells such as glial cells develop and mature rapidly in the first years of life. 

Glial cells help form synapses, insulate connections, deliver nutrients, and destroy pathogens in the brain and continue to mature for several decades.

From about 18 months to 2 years of age the brain strengths important connections and reduces unused connections shifting towards learning.

From about 18 months to 2 years of age the brain prioritizes certain experiences, more inhibitory connections develop which act as brakes on information processing, across brain circuits.

Infants reduce connections and lose  about half of these newly formed synapses in a process known as synaptic pruning. 

To strengthen persisting connections, myelination is created, the process in which nerve connections are wrapped and isolated by the protein. 

Myelination is important for children’s development because they learn to process emotions, interact in social settings and develop more complex communication skills.

There is much bonding and reinforcement during childhood, the brain is especially sensitive to interactions with others in their environment. 

Stress from trauma or neglect during this early time has profound effects on the rest of the child’s brain development throughout life.

Adolescence, ages 10-19 have dynamic changes in the brain networks involved in learning how to process emotions and motivations around different experiences.

During adolescence, there is increased sensitivity to the environment that is reflected in another bout of synaptic pruning and extensive myelination : this occurs, especially in underlying emotion and reward.

Teenagers are motivated to explore new experiences, no matter how dangerous or threatening they may be.

The mid-to-late 20s are the peak of brain development, when the brain has matured, and when the volume of white matter, which contributes to the speed of information processing reaches a high level.

Neural networks are constantly being adapted into young adulthood, especially those involved in rational thought and consideration of future consequences. 

As the brain progresses into the 30s and 40s, adult synaptic plasticity, or the ability of connections to strengthen or weaken in response to changes in activity, is thought to be reprioritized rather than reduced.

In the 40s and beyond, life shifts towards the challenges of adulthood – career, family and giving to the next generation. 

Experiences, lifestyle choices, stress or can affect brain development and aging. 

Older adults who engage in memory training tasks, crossword puzzles, and even video games can improve some cognitive functions.

Late in life, the brain does shrink in size and can begin to degenerate. 

However, older people also have the potential for greater wisdom built on a lifetime of experiences. 


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