How Aging Affects the Nervous System

As the source of all our senses, thoughts, memories, movements, and other essential daily functions of our body, our nervous system has a tremendous impact on the way we age. The nervous system is composed of two main parts: the central nervous system, consisting of the brain and the spinal cord, and the peripheral nervous system, comprised of the nerves located throughout the body. We have increasing risks with age, such as stroke, traumatic injury, and age-related neurological diseases. All these conditions can cause significant neuronal damage. According to scientific research, the nervous system can potentially restore its function after damage. However, aged neurons have reduced axon regeneration capability. But why? We turned to an expert from the University of Florida’s faculty for some insight. 

“Neurons Have the Potential to Restore Their Function After Injury” 

Dr. Sung Min Han from UF’s Department of Physiology and Aging explained: “We must prevent the progression of a [nervous system] disease or diagnose it at the early stage. That is the best scenario, as we have no efficient treatment strategy to prevent and restore neurons damaged by injury and disease. It is known that our central nervous system, our brain, and our spinal cord cannot make any regeneration. So, if we have damage in our central nervous system, at this point, there’s limited opportunity to restore function. Changing the probability of these outcomes will therefore play a key role in limiting the nervous system’s impact on aging. Fortunately, some neurons can repair their damaged axon structure and restore function. Unfortunately, aging interferes with the axon recovery process.  

Hopeful Discoveries Among the Research 

Through his research, Dr. Han has seen some positive signs with regard to neuron damage, our health, and aging, including at least one remarkable discovery. “We’re focusing on mitochondria now: How mitochondria regulate regeneration by acutely responding to injury. When I cut the axon of live animals’ neurons, mitochondria in neurons change their behavior. Mitochondria dynamically move within the injured axon and position near the cut site. We found that mitochondria accumulation is required for axon regeneration. Interestingly, we can experimentally modulate mitochondria behavior and improve axon regeneration capability. The problem is that aging neurons have a reduced ability to boost mitochondria movement. Does it affect the reduced axon regeneration capability in aged neurons? We are investigating these questions now.” Dr. Han’s hope is that this newfound knowledge can eventually be harnessed to stem the detrimental effects of aging on neuron damage. “[We want to] figure out how mitochondria in a neuron can respond to age and damage and in contrast how neuronal stress influences our whole-body aging.” 

Study Gerontology With a Leading Researcher  

As a faculty member of UF’s gerontology program, Dr. Han teaches courses including Clinical Neuroscience of Aging (GMS 6771), which explores the relationship between aging and change in brain systems and its links to clinical disorders. This course is an integral part of the curriculum of our online  master’s degree in gerontology and Graduate Certificate in Aging and Geriatric Practice programs, which are available year-round. It’s also an elective course in our online master’s degree in medical physiology and aging program, also available year-round. Let’s look at these programs a little more closely now. 

Your Choice for Online Credentials in Aging 

UF offers flexible, expert-led online graduate gerontology programs that allow you to build the foundation for a new career or perform to a higher standard in your current profession:  

Master’s Degree in Gerontology Benefits 

  • Prepares you to assist older adults in transitioning to a new stage of life 
  • Equips you to become an advocate for the unique needs of older adults 
  • Can be completed in as little as three semesters (30 credit hours) 
  • Will help you thrive in medical school and your professional life 

Master’s Degree in Medical Physiology and Aging Benefits 

  • Provides training in how to effectively provide older adults with services as a gerontologist or quality health care as a geriatrician
  • Prepares you to advocate for the unique needs of older adults, including their mental and physical health and independence
  • Can be completed in as little as one year (30 credit hours) 

Graduate Certificate in Aging and Geriatric Practice Benefits 

  • Considers the major human body systems in a geriatric context 
  • Prepares you to flourish in health-profession school 
  • Can be completed in as little as two semesters (15 credit hours) 

Each of these UF graduate programs is: 

  • Accessible – Start and finish without taking the GRE, writing a thesis or visiting campus. 
  • Affordable – Our competitive tuition rates make earning a graduate credential a cost-effective investment.
  • Convenient – Complete coursework on your schedule from anywhere in the world. 
  • Relevant – Stay on top of the latest research in the field with our regularly updated curriculum. 

Get more details about UF’s online graduate programs in gerontology here. Eager to get started? Apply now.  


Let’s Connect

Fill out the form below to receive more information about UF’s online graduate programs in gerontology.