Cognitive Processes and their Relationship with Aging


Young people are actively involved in the acquisition of new knowledge. They also portray higher memory retention as compared to older people. The brain cells of young people are considered healthier; hence, they can easily absorb and retain new information. The reason for this difference has been the concern of many scientists for many years. Numerous human behavior psychologists and scientists have tried to explain the relationship between the learning and memory activities of the brain and aging. It was not until recently that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology published a neuroscience article that in-depth insight into this relationship was revealed. Many other studies have been conducted to shed light on the detailed relationship between aging and cognitive processes. This paper presents a summary of the article with a view of explaining the molecular mechanisms involved in the brain cells’ DNA generation and degeneration processes that are responsible for the cognitive processes.

The role of Neural Processes in Cognition (Learning and Memory)

Rasmussen et al. (2013) reveal that the neural systems play a significant role in body activities concerning learning and memory. They trigger the acquisition and retention of fresh information. They also play a critical in the degeneration of the human brain as an individual grows older (Rasmussen et al., 2013). The revelation asserts that as people learn new things, the brain cells’ DNA undergoes a breakage process thereby creating damage that must be instantaneously repaired by the neurons (Ram et al., 2015). The researchers posit that this fundamental process facilitates learning and memory. This physiological process involves brain cells that break down their DNA strands to allow the expression of certain vital genes (Ram et al., 2015). At the same time, the neural system allows the disintegration of the DNA strands. This occurrence paves a way for the expression of genes. This process facilitates the transcriptional program responsible for learning and memory among other behavioral expressions.

Weakening DNA Repair

At a younger age, the energy for the physiological process is usually optimal as observed in the functioning of the body cells (Leandro, Sykora, & Bohr, 2014). Contrastingly, cell activity diminishes as old age encroaches (Ram et al., 2015). Researchers use this physiological concept to explain the relationship between the activity of the brain cells and degeneration. According to Leandro et al. (2014), the potential of the cell to repair the damaged DNA strands lowers as people age. The gradual reduction of the repair activity leads to the degeneration of the cells. At a young age, the learning and acquisition of knowledge are allowed by rapid DNA breaks and immediate repair. These two processes complement each other; hence, the activity of the cognitive faculties remains high. As one’s age advances further, the cognitive rate slows down. As a result, the DNA repair process (Rasmussen et al., 2013). The cognition process worsens if the aging individual develops particular genetic conditions that can compromise the effectiveness of the DNA repair system (Leandro et al., 2014). The slow DNA repairs lead to the accumulation of damage that can even be detrimental (Rasmussen et al., 2013). A common condition known to compromise the DNA repair system is Alzheimer’s disease. It is indicated that the hippocampal neurons have many twin DNA strand breaks as the disorder approaches the pre-symptomatic stage.

Enzymatic Activity

The DNA breakage is an enzyme-controlled activity. Leandro et al. (2014) reveal that the topoisomerase enzyme IIβ helps the DNA break following a stimulation process. In a laboratory study, Rasmussen et al. (2013) carried out a test to confirm the role of the abovementioned enzyme in the breakage of the DNA strands and gene expression. The deactivation of the enzyme led to the conclusion that the generation of the DNA double-strand break resulted in reduced brain activity. A computational analysis conducted by a separate group of neuroscientists showed that the genes require the DNA breakage mechanism to express themselves (Madabhushi et al., 2015). A sequence pattern entrenched in the CTCF protein led to the development of bends in the DNA strands. These bends form an obstruction that hinders the interaction of the different DNA elements that are vital for gene expression (Ram et al., 2015). This research shows that the expression of genes responsible for the cognition process is slowed down as a person’s age advances.

Accumulation of DNA Damages

Numerous neuroscientists have explained the relationship between cognition and aging using DNA repair mechanisms. Leandro et al. (2014) affirm that DNA repair significantly diminishes as a person approaches old age. It has also been claimed that slowed cognitive activity arises from the accumulation of DNA damage over time. The acquisition of new knowledge triggers the breakage of the DNA needed for the expression of specific genes (Madabhushi et al., 2015). Learning is a continuous process. As a result, the weakening of the brain cells escalates as people advance in old age. Due to the slowed DNA repair mechanisms, the damage continues to worsen with time. According to Ram et al. (2015), this state of events is a normal process as it occurs millions of times each day. Failed repair mechanisms are responsible for slowed brain activity and other body functions. Most scientists claim that continued DNA damage, failed repair mechanisms, and damage accumulation are important contributing components to the aging process (Rasmussen et al., 2013). Various types of damages including small errors in the DNA code (commonly referred to as mutations) and strand breaks can lead to fatal ramifications (Rasmussen et al., 2013). Usually, the body has involuntary repair systems for fixing the breaks of DNA strands (Ram et al., 2015). However, neuroscientists claim that the body can make erotic repairs that can threaten the lifespan of organisms.


This essay has provided insight into the correlation between the cognitive process and aging. A group of neuroscientists has provided a physiological explanation of how cognition slows down as the age of a person advances. The processes explained to provide an in-depth insight into the reasons why the learning and memory activities are higher in young people as compared to older individuals. Elderly people have acquired unlimited chunks of knowledge throughout their lives since birth. According to neuroscientists, the DNA material of the brain cells undergoes infinite damages that end up either repaired or unrepaired. This state of events can result in increased damage accumulations that continually hinder important gene expressions that determine the cognitive processes. The inhibited gene expressions are responsible for slow learning and memory lapses that are commonly noted among elderly people. It is worth noting that the body cells repair the broken DNA strands. However, mistakes that happen during the repair process result in memory lapses, Alzheimer’s disease, and reduced brain functioning among other disorders that are common in old age.

Reference List

Leandro, G., Sykora, P., & Bohr, V. (2014). The Impact of Base Excision DNA Repair in Age-Related Neurodegenerative Diseases. Web.

Madabhushi, R., Gao, F., Pfenning, A., Pan, L., Yamakawa, S., Seo, J.,…Tsai, L. (2015). Activity-Induced DNA Breaks Govern the Expression of Neuronal Early-Response Genes. Web.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (2015). DNA Breakage underlies both Learning, Age-Related Damage. Web.

Rasmussen, L., Shiloh, Y., Bergersen, L., Sander, M., Bohr, V., & Tønjum, T. (2013). DNA Damage Response, Bioenergetics, and Neurological Disease: The Challenge of maintaining Brain Health in an Aging Human Population. Web.

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