What does your nervous system do?
The nervous system includes the brain, the spinal cord, and all the nerves in your body. It controls:
- Sight, hearing, taste, smell, and feeling (sensation).
- Movement, balance, and coordination. It also controls the actions of most other body systems, such as blood flow and blood pressure.
- Your ability to think and reason. It allows you to have thoughts, memories, and language.
The nervous system is divided into the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system, or CNS) and the nerve cells that control movements (peripheral nervous system, or PNS).
What problems can happen with your nervous system?
Nervous system problems may occur slowly. Bit by bit, they can cause you to lose control over something you used to do with ease. Problems also can occur quickly. These problems can be very dangerous. Symptoms may be mild or severe.
Examples of nervous system problems are:
- Injuries. Most often, these are injuries to the head and spinal cord.
- Mental health problems, such as anxiety disorders or depression.
- Diseases that cause a gradual loss of function. These include Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis (MS).
- Memory loss. This can be a slight loss of memory that does not affect daily life. Or it could be dementia, which also changes how well you can think and plan. Alzheimer's disease is a type of dementia.
- Infections in the brain and spinal cord, such as encephalitis or meningitis.
How can you prevent nervous system problems?
- Do not smoke. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
- Do not use illegal drugs. And limit alcohol to 3 drinks a day for men and 2 drinks a day for women. Too much alcohol can cause health problems.
- Take care of health problems that may harm your nervous system. These include diabetes and high blood pressure.
- Learn new skills, which can increase your attention span and how well you can focus.
- Use fewer over-the-counter medicines. Overuse of medicines may be the single biggest cause of nervous system problems in older adults.
- Protect yourself from head injuries and falls. For example, wear a helmet when you bike, skate, or ski. Use grab handles and non-skid mats in the tub and shower.