Autism and aging with researcher B. Blair Braden

Autism and aging with researcher B. Blair Braden


What makes us who we are, and how
does that change when we get older? Especially if there’s reason to believe
aging may affect you differently. Neurologists that typically are seeing older
adults who are coming in with cognitive complaints may not be aware of the cognitive difficulties
that people with autism have, who are on the spectrum but have never been diagnosed. Sue: When I was growing up, they didn’t even
recognize such a thing as high-functioning autism. Rob: I was an old guy with gray hair when
I found out I was autistic. Sue: And I was diagnosed in my early 50s. Rob: There is an incredible void of work
regarding people who are beyond 18 years old. I think the more that is learned about the whole
life cycle, that increases the intuition of researchers and practitioners. Sue: I was talking with some of my peers,
neurotypical, and they were talking about oh, the forgetfulness, the aching joints, etc. But to me, I’ve had those problems
my entire life. All those things that people laugh at as
age-related forgetfulness – that’s part of the executive functioning issues
that I’ve had with working memory and so I’m very interested in sharing what I can. Blair: People with autism have a lot of these cognitive
struggles and brain communication patterns that look more like what we know happens with aging.
So Sue was saying, “I’ve always struggled with these things, and my friends who are neurotypical are just now
struggling with them.” So that really informs our hypothesis, and in this case
on a brain level, that panned out. There’s a brain network that involves our frontal lobe
that the communication in that brain network becomes less efficient the older we get, and that
age-related difference was much greater in the adults with autism. You know, something that researchers and scientists can give
to people is some type of expectation of how their lives will change as they grow older.

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