The Aging Brain

Course No. 1633
Professor Thad A. Polk, Ph.D.
University of Michigan
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Course No. 1633
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  • Audio or Video?
  • You should buy audio if you would enjoy the convenience of experiencing this course while driving, exercising, etc. While the video does contain visual elements, the professor presents the material in an engaging and clear manner, so the visuals are not necessary to understand the concepts. Additionally, the audio audience may refer to the accompanying course guidebook for names, works, diagrams, illustrations, and examples that are cited throughout the course.
  • You should buy video if you prefer learning visually and wish to take advantage of the visual elements featured in this course. While the video version can be considered lightly illustrated, it does feature helpful visuals, charts, and graphics - specifically to help orient you to the areas of the brain, as well as on-screen text to help reinforce material for visual learners.
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What Will You Learn?

  • Learn how fluid processing skills-such as episodic and working memory-tend to decline over time.
  • Discover what scientific research shows about our evolving emotional landscape, and why older people tend to be happier than the young.
  • Explore the long-term brain benefits of eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Course Overview

We’re all getting older every day, and scientific research has shown that starting in our twenties, some brain functions begin a linear decline. Even if we avoid diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, parts of the brain inevitably shrink, replicating cells become damaged, and fluid processing skills such as multitasking and episodic memory worsen. But is old age all doom and gloom? Are we destined for senescence once we’re barely out of adolescence?

Not at all! While it’s true that some functions in the aging brain decline, neuroscientists have discovered that many other brain functions remain stable—or even improve—as we age. Furthermore, nurture plays as significant a role as nature, and there are a number of strategies you can implement to stave off declining brain function, including:

  • Incorporating physical activity into your routine
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Maintaining a vibrant social life
  • Reducing your stress

The science behind the aging brain tells a fascinating—and often counterintuitive—story. Is “aging” a disease, or merely a natural occurrence that produces disease-like symptoms? If humans are biologically programmed to survive and thrive, why do we age at all? Is it possible (or even desirable) to “cure” aging altogether? Delve into these questions and more in The Aging Brain. Taught by Professor Thad Polk, a neuroscientist and award-winning professor at the University of Michigan, these twelve eye-opening lectures will give you a wealth of new insights into what happens to the brain over time—as well as strategies to mitigate the effects of aging and enhance your quality of life into old age.

With a mix of scientific research and practical applications, Professor Polk brings cutting-edge science to life. He takes you down to the cellular and even molecular level of the brain to show you why certain functions decline, how some aspects of brain aging are under genetic control, and what you can do to prolong your health and keep your mind sharp. Aging affects us all, but as you will learn in The Aging Brain, you have some control over how it affects you.

Explore the Science of Aging

Professor Polk is a practicing researcher in the field of neuroscience, and he brings his experience and knowledge into this course to give you a rigorous introduction to the science of aging. Without shying away from the complexity, he provides a lucid explanation of everything from physiology to genetics to stem cell research. Among other topics, you will study:

  • The biology of aging: Much of the physical decline in aging derives from the basic mechanisms underlying metabolism, from molecules called free radicals that steal electrons from other molecules, and from accumulating damage to DNA. Learn about these mechanisms and what may help combat them.
  • Changes to the brain: With the advent of new imaging techniques, it is now possible to study brain structure as well as brain activity while subjects perform various tasks. Such studies have revealed that changes in the brain can actually shed light on why some cognitive functions decline with age, while others don’t. Explore this fascinating field and gain new insight into how your brain can reorganize itself to help you age more gracefully.
  • Diseases and conditions: Dementia, depression, stroke, and other conditions are notorious dangers as we age. Find out what causes brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, learn how they are treated, and consider the role of nature versus nurture in preventing them.
  • Future therapies: Is it possible to prevent aging altogether? Take a look into the future to predict what results we might one day see from gene therapy and stem cell research. Consider the risks of such possibilities, both to our bodies and to society.

Learn How to Keep Your Mind Healthy

Growing older may be inevitable, but there is much we can do to fight senescence. By studying communities where people tend to live exceptionally long lives, using brain scanning technologies such as fMRIs, and conducting longitudinal studies of the population, researchers have uncovered a wealth of information about staying healthy and keeping the mind sharp.

  • Memory: There are better ways to learn and retain information than rote memorization. Professor Polk shows you how to build a memory house and how to employ visual and spatial thinking as well as deep processing in order to improve your memory.
  • Physical Activity: Everyone knows that exercise can help keep your body fit, but scientific studies are now revealing that it can also substantially improve your cognitive functioning—while reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and other brain disorders.
  • Diet: The Mediterranean diet and other diets that include plenty of fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains have been shown to improve cognitive well-being. In fact, the results from one research study were so dramatic that the study had to be cancelled mid-way through, as it was deemed unethical to keep the control group on a diet of processed foods.
  • Socialization: Humans are social creatures, and we need a sense of purpose. There is a strong correlation between communities with strong social bonds and longer lifespans.

In other words, stay active, eat well, and build a deep social network. This is great advice for people of all ages, but it’s even more important as you get older. With what you learn from The Aging Brain, you can face the challenges of aging with comprehension and confidence, armed with knowledge to help you live a longer, healthier, and more enjoyable life.

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12 lectures
 |  31 minutes each
  • 1
    The Aging Mind: What Changes?
    Aging affects us all, and it’s important to know how our cognitive functions change over our lives. The course opens with an examination of how fluid processing skills—such as episodic and working memory—tend to decline over time, whereas crystallized intelligence (how-to skills and accumulated knowledge) remains stable or even improves. x
  • 2
    Why Don’t We Live Forever?
    Take a look at how our genes influence the aging process. Professor Polk explores several theories for why we age and eventually die, then delves into the genetic mechanisms involved in aging. Find out how replication damages cells and why there is a limit to the number of healthy replications our cells can make. x
  • 3
    Is Aging a Disease?
    Scientists debate whether aging is actually a disease, but the effects of aging indisputably resemble the symptoms of a disease. Here, examine three major mechanisms behind these effects: energy consumption, free radicals, and damage to our DNA. Then consider whether there could be a way to “cure” these effects. x
  • 4
    Aging and Brain Structure
    See how the cognitive changes of aging relate to the biological changes discussed in the previous lectures. It turns out that regions of the brain associated with processing speed, executive function, and episodic memory are more susceptible to aging, which may explain why these cognitive functions are particularly susceptible to decline. Tour the anatomy of the brain and see age-related differences in action. x
  • 5
    Aging and Brain Function
    Turn from the brain’s structure to its activity. After reviewing how we study brain function via fMRI, Professor Polk shows you how brain activity changes as we age—and how these changes impact our memory, our ability to multitask, and more. Then, learn some good news about how the brain compensates for these changes. x
  • 6
    Emotional Aging
    Many studies agree that people older than 65 typically experience a greater sense of emotional well-being than younger people. See what scientific research shows about our evolving emotional landscape, and why older people tend to be happier than the young. Depression can still be a problem for older adults, though—consider the most common causes, discover how symptoms may differ from those of younger people, and learn to match the treatment to the situation. x
  • 7
    Strategies for an Aging Memory
    How does memory work? Can aspects of it be improved? This eye-opening lecture offers a test of two different strategies for memorization: sheer repetition on the one hand, and visual-spatial storytelling on the other. Once you understand how memory works, you’ll investigate four key principles that you can apply to improve your own memory. x
  • 8
    Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease
    Find out what medical scientists mean by “dementia,” which results from disease and is not a normal part of healthy aging. The most prominent disease that causes dementia is Alzheimer’s, so Professor Polk walks you through its history, symptoms, and palliative treatments, as well as the current state of Alzheimer’s research. x
  • 9
    Parkinson’s Disease and Stroke
    Continue your study of age-related brain diseases with an investigation of Parkinson’s disease and stroke. What are they? How do they affect a person’s behavior? And can they be treated? Examinations of these questions and more take you through neurochemistry, stem cell research, and strategies you can use to reduce your risk. x
  • 10
    Aging Well: Staying Active
    Get ready for good news to help stave off mental decline! Here, you’ll analyze the effects of physical, social, and mental activity on the aging brain. Ample evidence from communities with longer-than-average lifespans shows that getting plenty of exercise and maintaining a vibrant social life can help keep the mind sharp and the spirit young. x
  • 11
    Aging Well: Diet and Stress
    Shift your attention from the effects of physical and social activity to the impact of diet and stress. Explore the benefits of eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and omega-3 fatty acids and low in processed foods—like the Mediterranean, DASH, and MIND diets. Then, delve into the physiological effects of stress, trace the damage it creates throughout the body, and learn how to reduce stress to increase longevity. x
  • 12
    The Science of Immortality
    Is it possible to live forever? Would we even want to? Conclude the course with a look at cutting-edge research involving gene therapy and stem cells that may help us mitigate or even “cure” the effects of aging. The science is still emerging, but the possibilities are fascinating. x

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What's Included

What Does Each Format Include?

Video DVD
Video Download Includes:
  • Ability to download 12 video lectures from your digital library
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
Audio Download Includes:
  • Ability to download 12 audio lectures from your digital library
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE audio streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
DVD Includes:
  • 12 lectures on 2 DVDs
  • 126-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
  • Closed captioning available
Video DVD
CD Includes:
  • 12 Lectures on 6 CDs
  • 126-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE audio streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

Video DVD
Course Guidebook Details:
  • 126-page printed course guidebook
  • Charts & photographs
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider

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Your professor

Thad A. Polk

About Your Professor

Thad A. Polk, Ph.D.
University of Michigan
Professor Thad A. Polk is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of Psychology and the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Michigan. He received a B.A. in Mathematics from the University of Virginia and an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Computer Science and Psychology from Carnegie Mellon University. He also received postdoctoral training in cognitive neuroscience at the...
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Reviews

The Aging Brain is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 139.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Glad I Bought This My mother has dementia and this gives me some ideas of what might be going on in an aging mind.
Date published: 2018-08-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Calibrated for seniors Lecturer is very professional and easy to listen to. Lectures are well organized and followed quite sensibly. Answered many of my questions as a 76 year old senior and I found it very informative. I plan to share it in my close acquaintances for their own edification as there are many mis-perceptions about aging, dementia, health, diet and exercise that this clarifies well.
Date published: 2018-07-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good coverage of a broad topic This lecture series covers a very broad subject, The Aging Brain. It is an excellent introduction to a wide range of subjects. As an octogenarian, I have already been exploring information on some of the topics. This tied it all together and expanded it. It was especially meaningful to me to hear the range of specific studies that back up the current state of knowledge. This is not one man's opinions, but the consensus of the field. The breadth was also important, tying together and showing the relationship of areas such as cardiovascular with brain function. This course would be particularly valuable to a "younger" person (e.g., 50's) to make life style changes to ensure the best possible later outcomes.
Date published: 2018-07-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting and timely information! I bought this after I bought The Learning Brain. I enjoyed both of them. I could have used a bit more detail here. As one of the "aging brains", I have been searching for information on what it means to age and learn as well as possible, given the science that we have. This course provides great information towards that goal, but it's a starting point. I put this course at a freshman level. Give me senior level. I'm not seeing as much science on the aging phenomenon as I would like. What I would like to see next are the details associated with various aspects of aging. For example, now that I know about social interactions, what sorts of social interactions are more effective than others for helping the brain to age gracefully. If we integrate the learning brain and the aging brain, can we come up with ideas for learning and aging more effectively beyond the general ideas presented here? What can we learn in terms of improving our social interactions for aging? We know about diet and exercise, for example, but what specifically? I'm really focused right now on the social aspects and the kinds of projects that the "aging brain" takes on to improve quality of life and thinking. I'm looking forward to more courses by Prof. Polk and TGC to help with my own aging and learning. Thanks for what you have provided!
Date published: 2018-07-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very informative - excellent professor Excellent presentation - Professor told objective for a lesson and then summarized what was covered at the end of the lesson. I'm 82 and picked up some ideas for keeping brain healthy and active.
Date published: 2018-07-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good Title I'm getting old so it is important to me to know what is going on with my brain. I found this course ti be informative and interesting, It gave me information on how I can keep my brain active and healthy.
Date published: 2018-07-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent outline and lectures! Aging Brain was outstanding....material presented extremely well! I joined GREAT COURSES earlier this year, have enjoyed all my selections....definitely FIVE STARS!!! I graduated from liberal arts curriculum, back in 1972...... this has been a wonderful way to relive that experience. Pat70
Date published: 2018-07-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Insightful We listened while driving a long distance. Research, observations and examples offered an insightful approach to understanding how we develop as we age. Well worth sharing with younger people who misinterpret aging as a negative decline in intellectual activity.
Date published: 2018-07-14
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