Objective: This paper examines the current literature pertaining to brain ageing. The objective of this review is to provide an overview of the effects of ageing on brain structure and function and to examine possible mediators of these changes. Methods: A MEDLINE search was conducted for each area of interest. A selective review was undertaken of relevant articles. Results: Although fundamental changes in fluid intellectual abilities occur with age, global cognitive decline is not a hallmark of the ageing process. Decline in fluid intellectual ability is paralleled by regionally specific age related changes apparent from both structural and functional neuroimaging studies. The histopathological mediators of these changes do not appear to be reduction in neuronal number, which, with the exception of selected hippocampal regions, remain relatively stable across age. At the molecular level, several mechanisms of age related change have been postulated. Such theoretical models await refinement and may eventually provide a basis for therapy designed to reduce effects of the ageing process. The role of possible protective factors such as 'brain reserve', neuroprotective agents and hormonal factors in modifying individual vulnerability to the ageing process has been the focus of a limited number of studies. Conclusion: Our understanding of the functional and structural changes associated with both healthy and pathological ageing is rapidly gaining in sophistication and complexity. An awareness of the fundamental biological substrates underpinning the ageing process will allow improved insights into vulnerability to neuropsychiatric disease associated with advancing age.
- Brain ageing