"Normal" brains, waning with age... what is normal?

The Philadelphia Inquirer investigates the aging brain, discussing ways that diminished executive function impacts older adults. Just as our muscles and eyes typically decline with age, so too do our brains. Jason Karlawish, MD, professor of Medicine and Medical Ethics and Health Policy, said there's growing interest in changes in judgment and decision-making that go along with aging but "right now don't map onto any disease." Some of the "normal" changes doctors see may, in fact, be early signs of dementia. A recent Penn study found that the first symptoms of Alzheimer's in patients with a particular genetic profile were problems with attention, language, and executive function. As scientific studies of the aging brain reveal more about how structural damage affects thinking, they raise thorny, as-yet-unanswered questions. How do we protect the vulnerable elderly?