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Sioux Falls Free Thinkers endorse The Aging Brain for an
intensive in-depth course on how the brain ages and
what we personally can expect in the future.

The Aging Brain
Lectures by Professor Thad A. Polk

The Aging Brain (2016)
12 lectures, 6 hours
The Aging Brain  at

We’re all getting older every day, and scientific research has shown that starting in our twenties, some brain functions begin a linear decline. Even if we avoid diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, parts of the brain inevitably shrink, replicating cells become damaged, and fluid processing skills such as multitasking and episodic memory worsen. But is old age all doom and gloom? Are we destined for senescence once we’re barely out of adolescence?

Not at all! While it’s true that some functions in the aging brain decline, neuroscientists have discovered that many other brain functions remain stable—or even improve—as we age. Furthermore, nurture plays as significant a role as nature, and there are a number of strategies you can implement to stave off declining brain function, including:

  • Incorporating physical activity into your routine
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Maintaining a vibrant social life
  • Reducing your stress

The science behind the aging brain tells a fascinating—and often counterintuitive—story. Is “aging” a disease, or merely a natural occurrence that produces disease-like symptoms? If humans are biologically programmed to survive and thrive, why do we age at all? Is it possible (or even desirable) to “cure” aging altogether? Delve into these questions and more in The Aging Brain. Taught by Professor Thad Polk, a neuroscientist and award-winning professor at the University of Michigan, these twelve eye-opening lectures will give you a wealth of new insights into what happens to the brain over time—as well as strategies to mitigate the effects of aging and enhance your quality of life into old age.

With a mix of scientific research and practical applications, Professor Polk brings cutting-edge science to life. He takes you down to the cellular and even molecular level of the brain to show you why certain functions decline, how some aspects of brain aging are under genetic control, and what you can do to prolong your health and keep your mind sharp. Aging affects us all, but as you will learn in The Aging Brain, you have some control over how it affects you.

Explore the Science of Aging

Professor Polk is a practicing researcher in the field of neuroscience, and he brings his experience and knowledge into this course to give you a rigorous introduction to the science of aging. Without shying away from the complexity, he provides a lucid explanation of everything from physiology to genetics to stem cell research. Among other topics, you will study:

  • The biology of aging: Much of the physical decline in aging derives from the basic mechanisms underlying metabolism, from molecules called free radicals that steal electrons from other molecules, and from accumulating damage to DNA. Learn about these mechanisms and what may help combat them.
  • Changes to the brain: With the advent of new imaging techniques, it is now possible to study brain structure as well as brain activity while subjects perform various tasks. Such studies have revealed that changes in the brain can actually shed light on why some cognitive functions decline with age, while others don’t. Explore this fascinating field and gain new insight into how your brain can reorganize itself to help you age more gracefully.
  • Diseases and conditions: Dementia, depression, stroke, and other conditions are notorious dangers as we age. Find out what causes brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, learn how they are treated, and consider the role of nature versus nurture in preventing them.
  • Future therapies: Is it possible to prevent aging altogether? Take a look into the future to predict what results we might one day see from gene therapy and stem cell research. Consider the risks of such possibilities, both to our bodies and to society.

12 Lectures - 31 minutes each

1: The Aging Mind: What Changes? 7: Strategies for an Aging Memory
2: Why Don’t We Live Forever? 8: Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease
3: Is Aging a Disease? 9: Parkinson’s Disease and Stroke
4: Aging and Brain Structure 10: Aging Well: Staying Active
5: Aging and Brain Function 11: Aging Well: Diet and Stress
6: Emotional Aging 12: The Science of Immortality


Dr. Thad A. Polk is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Michigan. He received an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Computer Science and Psychology from Carnegie Mellon University. Dr. Polk’s research combines functional imaging of the human brain with computational modeling and behavioral methods to investigate the neural architecture underlying cognition. One of his major projects has investigated changes in neural representations as we age. Dr. Polk has been named to The Princeton Review’s list of the Best 300 Professors in the United States.

9-19-18 Over-the-hill cells may cause trouble in the aging brain
Killing senescent cells in the noggins of mice prevented memory loss. Cells past their prime may have a role in dementia. Culling these cells protected the brains of mice that were otherwise destined for brain decline, a new study finds. Senescent cells, which accumulate with age, are still alive but in a state of suspended animation — they stop doing their jobs and they stop dividing. Getting rid of these cells in the body extends the life spans of mice and improves their heart and kidney health, scientists have found (SN: 3/5/16, p. 8). The new research, published online September 19 in Nature, suggests that senescent cells also make mischief in the aging brain. Molecular biologist Darren Baker of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and colleagues studied mice with mutations that led nerve cells in their brains to accumulate a toxic form of the protein tau. Damaging globs of this protein, called neurofibrillary tangles, are a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. In some of these mice, Baker and colleagues also engineered in a genetic trick — a “kill switch” that destroys cells as soon as they become senescent. In mutated mice with this switch, tau didn’t accumulate as fast. What’s more, these mice were better able to recognize new smells and objects than mice with more senescent cells in their brains. An anticancer drug called navitoclax that targets senescent cells also had protective effects in these mutated mice’s brains.

8-22-18 George Church: The maverick geneticist now wants to reverse ageing
He stirred controversy with his plans to bring back the woolly mammoth. But first he's working on editing sperm – and trying out his ageing reversal techniques on dogs. HE MADE his name as a pioneer of gene sequencing in the 90s. Since then, however, George Church has also gained a reputation as something of a maverick, with his often-controversial ideas on how to apply gene editing, most notably his project to bring back the woolly mammoth. Church is a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and a prolific entrepreneur. He has also worked for decades to get more people to have their genome sequenced, and with his latest company, he hopes he has hit on a way to do just that. Why work on ageing reversal in dogs first? One of the reasons is we can make the cost much lower. The FDA approval for veterinary products is a lot faster and cheaper, and I want the world to get used to the idea that gene therapies can be inexpensive. Dogs are a really good product target, but they are also a good segue to humans because they are similar in size, they live in our environment, they eat our food, we are responsive to their emotional state. In many ways, they are like children. What do you really mean by ageing reversal? Ageing reversal is a much better target than longevity. It’s very difficult to get the FDA to approve a drug that will make you live 20, 30 years longer. The FDA requires you to prove exactly what you want to put on the label, so if you want to put 30 years of added longevity, you have to do a 30-year study. We’re saying we can achieve ageing reversal in maybe a couple of months, so then our study can be that short.

The Aging Brain
Lectures by Professor Thad A. Polk

Sioux Falls Free Thinkers endorse The Aging Brain for an
intensive in-depth course on how the brain ages and
what we personally can expect in the future.