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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

About 11% of Americans over the age of 65 are diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and related dementia. For others, the changes in memory we experience as we age are normal.

The big picture: Rather than passively declining, the brain adapts and changes as humans age. Researchers want to understand how our ability to remember changes with age in hopes of improving it, and of treating and preventing Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Those diseases are "superimposed on an aging brain," says Carol Barnes, who studies healthy brain aging at the University of Arizona.

"The older ideas that brain ages passively is the wrong way to understand the changes that occur with age."
— Carol Barnes, neuroscientist, University of Arizona

How it works: Different kinds of memories are formed, stored and maintained in and between different regions of the brain, but the hippocampus is a central player.

  • As people pass 60 years of age, they often experience a decline in episodic memory, or autobiographical experiences, which some research ties to changes in the hippocampus.
  • The upside is that semantic memory — our knowledge about the world — declines later in life, says Michael Rugg, a memory researcher at the University of Texas at Dallas.

"Aging isn’t passive. The brain is always plastic and always changing," he says of shifts at the level of individual neurons but also the different cognitive strategies individuals adopt. "As we grow older, you get adaptive changes in the brain."

What's next: There are individual differences in when and how fast our cognitive abilities change as we age. Researchers want to understand them in hopes of identifying risks for cognitive decline and tailoring treatments to maximize brain function.

  • Barnes tells Axios she envisions a field of "precision aging" — applying the approaches of precision medicine to cognitive health by studying factors like genetics, environmental exposure and social interactions in a large, diverse group of people over time.

Go deeper:

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Scoop: Gina Haspel threatened to resign over plan to install Kash Patel as CIA deputy

CIA Director Gina Haspel. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

CIA Director Gina Haspel threatened to resign in early December after President Trump cooked up a hasty plan to install loyalist Kash Patel, a former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), as her deputy, according to three senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the matter.

Why it matters: The revelation stunned national security officials and almost blew up the leadership of the world's most powerful spy agency. Only a series of coincidences — and last minute interventions from Vice President Mike Pence and White House counsel Pat Cipollone — stopped it.

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus deaths reach 4,000 per day as hospitals remain in crisis mode — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Biden says, "We will manage the hell out of" vaccine distribution — Biden taps ex-FDA chief to lead Operation Warp Speed amid rollout of COVID plan — Widow of GOP congressman-elect who died of COVID-19 will run to fill his seat.
  3. Vaccine: Battling Black mistrust of the vaccines"Pharmacy deserts" could become vaccine deserts — Instacart to give $25 to shoppers who get vaccine.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode againFed chair: No interest rate hike coming any time soon —  Inflation rose more than expected in December.
  5. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.

John Weaver, Lincoln Project co-founder, acknowledges “inappropriate” messages

John Weaver aboard John McCain's campaign plane in February 2000. Photo: Robert Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images)

John Weaver, a veteran Republican operative who co-founded the Lincoln Project, declared in a statement to Axios on Friday that he sent “inappropriate,” sexually charged messages to multiple men.

  • “To the men I made uncomfortable through my messages that I viewed as consensual mutual conversations at the time: I am truly sorry. They were inappropriate and it was because of my failings that this discomfort was brought on you,” Weaver said.
  • “The truth is that I'm gay,” he added. “And that I have a wife and two kids who I love. My inability to reconcile those two truths has led to this agonizing place.”