Almost everyone has someone in their lives these days, either a family member or a friend, whose mental capabilities either seem to be in slow decline or they have been diagnosed with dementia. So naturally, you are likely concerned with your own brain health as you age. No one wants to get older and have to cope with the emotional stress of memory loss, not being able to focus as well as you used to, or having to face a serious decline in your ability to learn and retain new
Maybe you are worried because you have noticed some things such as forgetting the right word to use now and then or getting up and going somewhere in your house and when you get there, you can’t remember what you were there to do (aaaaagh!!). You might wonder if you’re in the early stages of dementia yourself. So, what’s the answer to all this? Are there ways to preserve cognitive ability as you get older?
The Aging Brain
So, what actually happens to your brain as you age? As you get older, your brain volume shrinks, especially in those parts of the brain that are related to learning or other complex mental activities. As a result, some connections between nerve cells (neurons) can be lost. This, coupled with the reduction in blood flow to the brain that naturally occurs with aging, can affect how your brain functions, even if you are perfectly healthy. That’s why some older individuals don’t do as well on complex tests of memory or learning.
But contrary to what a lot of people think, significant memory problems are not a normal part of aging. Research shows that older folks do just as well as younger on tests of memory and learning if they are given some extra time. If you or a loved one has significant memory problems, you should be medically evaluated.
There is also increasing evidence that the brain is not a static organ and that it can change and adapt to new situations as you age. Since people naturally lose brain cells as they age, scientists used to think that after the age of twenty-five or so, it was all downhill in terms of brain health, but this has since been proven to be false. We now know that you can grow new brain cells throughout your life.
So what can you do to keep your brain as sharp as possible as you get older?
One - Get regular exercise, which helps with circulation and maintains better blood flow to the brain. Consistent physical activity has been shown to reduce your risk of developing dementia and also maintain better balance which is critical for good health as we age.
Two – Focus on brain foods.Your diet can have a huge impact on your brain health. Ensure that you eat plenty of fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids. These fortify our brain cells and improve the structure of our neurons. Berries are delicious and also full of flavonoid antioxidants which are known to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress in brain cells. Vegetables, and leafy greens have glucosinates, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that are known to improve brain health. Add healthy oils to your diet such as the ones found in good quality olive oil, avocados, and nuts. Cut back or eliminate red meat and processed foods and other foods high in saturated fats. Remember that a health diet can also help to keep Alzheimers at bay.
Three - Stimulate your brain to build cognitive reserve. Research has shown that people with more years of formal education are at lower risk of developing dementia than those who have less schooling. But even if you don’t have an advanced degree, there is plenty you can do to stimulate your brain. Take an online or in-person class and learn a new skill. Learn how to use a new technology, such as a tablet computer, can reduce or delay the cognitive changes that come with aging.
Four - Be social. Making new friends or socializing more frequently with the ones you have is good for your brain health. High social engagement means a lower risk of dementia.
Five - Control your cholesterol levels and your blood pressure. If you smoke, ask your health care provider to assist you in quitting.Also, use alcohol sparingly if at all. These are all known to have detrimental effects on the brain so it’s best to ensure that we are not actively doing additional damage to our brains functioning.
Combined, all of these tips can really increase your chances of keeping your brain sharp as you get older. After all, we want you to be able to enjoy your “Golden Years!”