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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:

Go deeper

Updated 6 mins ago - Sports

IOC: Belarus sprinter who sought refuge in Tokyo "safe"

Krystsina Tsimanouskaya of Belarus in 2019. Photo: Ivan Romano/Getty Images

Belarusian Olympian Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, who sought refuge in Tokyo, is in the care of Japanese authorities and the UN refugee agency is now involved in her case, an International Olympic Committee official told reporters Monday.

The latest: Officials in Poland and the Czech Republic have offered to help the 24-year-old sprinter, who refused national team orders to board a flight home after being taken to Tokyo's Haneda airport Sunday following her criticism of Belarusian coaches, per Reuters

Updated 1 hour ago - Sports

Olympics dashboard

Italy's Lamont Marcell Jacobs of Team Italy crosses the finish line ahead of American Fred Kerley in the men's 100m final on day nine of the Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, Japan, on Sunday. Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

🚨: IOC "looking into" American Raven Saunders' Olympic podium gesture

🏃🏾: Italy's Lamont Marcell Jacobs: Reconnecting with U.S. father "gave me the desire to win" Olympic 100m sprint race.

🥇High jumpers persuade Olympic officials to let them share gold

🏌️‍♂️: Golfer Xander Schauffele wins gold for U.S. by one shot

🤸🏿‍♀️: Simone Biles won't compete in Olympic floor finals, individual vault or uneven bars

🏳️‍⚧️: Axios at the Olympics: Games grapple with trans athletesTrans athletes see the Tokyo Games as a watershed moment

Go deeper: Full Axios coverage

Updated 1 hour ago - Sports

IOC "looking into" American Raven Saunders' Olympic podium gesture

Team USA's Raven Saunders gestures on the podium with her silver medal after competing in the women's shot put event during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo on Sunday. Photo: Ina Fassbender/AFP via Getty Images

The International Olympic Committee is "looking into" U.S. shot-putter Raven Saunders' gesture on the Tokyo Games podium after she won a silver medal, IOC spokesperson Mark Adams told reporters Monday.

Why it matters: Saunders told AP she placed her hands above her head in an "X" formation while on the podium to stand up for "oppressed" people. The IOC has banned protests during the Tokyo Games.