Brain Changes over the Lifespan

Age Range/Developmental Period

Some Brain Changes

Some Behavioral Changes

Early Childhood-Preschool

The number of synapses, or connections between neurons, increases rapidly. The brain strengthens connections it uses frequently and eliminates those that are not used.

The number of white matter neurons along the motor nervous system tract increases.

The foundation for lifelong brain function, memory, and adaptability is established/grows.

A wider range of more complex actions becomes possible – for example, raising the head, reaching, rolling, crawling, walking, and running.

School-Aged Childhood

Parts of the temporal lobes continue to grow and reach peak volume.

Especially between 5-11 years of age, neural network connections increase in areas of the frontal, parietal, and temporal lobes related to language and cognition.

The ability to understand, process, and respond to social situations increases.

Between 5-11 years of age, many language and cognition milestones are reached.


Neural network connections in the frontal lobes continue to grow and strengthen.

Areas of the brain involved in reward, motivation, and emotion also continue to develop.

The ability to reason about abstract concepts develops.

Emotions are heightened in intensity and urgency.

Young Adulthood

Areas of the frontal lobe involved in goal-directed behavior mature.

White matter connections continue to increase.

Impulse control and planning abilities are mastered.

The brain can better integrate information (for example, when problem solving).

Middle Ages

Existing white matter connections strengthen, allowing the brain to efficiently engage in more complex cognitive tasks.

 Although neural networks are well established, temporal lobe white matter continues to increase, and the brain is capable of rewiring existing connections.

Abstract reasoning, mathematical and spatial reasoning, and verbal abilities increase.

Optimism and social appropriateness increase.

Older Ages

Some structures and regions of the brain shrink.

White matter decreases.

Complex mental processes may be negatively affected. Vocabulary and experience-based knowledge remain strengths.

Speed of processing decreases, and extra time to complete tasks may be beneficial.


American Psychological Association

The Dana Foundation

The Harvard Mahoney Neuroscience Institute

The Journal of Neuroscience

National Institute on Aging

National Institute of Mental Health

Nursing Times

Oxford Journals, Cerebral Cortex

Oxford Journals, Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience

The Wall Street Journal