A new study in anthropology hints at a major difference between our aging brains and those of our closest animal relatives, the chimpanzees. Research indicates that although the evolutionary pattern of humans and chimps are very close to each other, the brains of both the species do not age similarly. Although humans live longer and evolution has added to their longevity, the cost of this boon is brain degeneration and loss of cognitive capabilities. Chimpanzees on the other hand do not suffer from brain damage caused due to the process of aging.
Prior to this current body of work, not much was available with regards to brain related information of chimps. However, a group of scientists, researchers, anthropologists, veterinary professionals and biologists have changed that. They set out with the purpose of looking at comparable data to look at the similarities and differences between brain aging of humans and chimps. Therefore, they used magnetic resonance imaging to look at the various parts of the primates’ brain including the frontal lobe white matter, frontal lobe grey matter, total neocortical white matter and the hippocampus of chimpanzees. The hippocampus was given special importance during the research as it is associated with short and long term memory.
Upon extensive tests and comparisons, it has been established that humans pay a dear price for longevity. The process of aging in the human brain is such that although people live for longer durations of time, the neurons in the brains that die over time cannot be restored. This also leads to ailments such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. A chimpanzee has an average lifespan of 45 in its natural habitat. A human being on the other hand can live till well into his eighties in spite of not having any access to modern amenities and medical care. However, the brain of a chimpanzee does not suffer from atrophy or degeneration the way it does in human beings.
Researchers has tipped this new study as the foundation stone to further studies in the field of understanding Alzheimer’s and other mental disorders which are triggered due to age. Moreover, humans are most susceptible to brain damage compared to other animals and this process of aging is very unique. It results due to wear and tear, which is caused due to the number of years for which an average human life can last.
What humans gained by way of an enlarged brain and increased longevity is undercut by damage and disease in their brain in the later stages of life. Seems like the chimps have won this battle!
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