Growing older can cause several changes, mentally, physically, and emotionally. Even when a person is healthy, the brain and body start shutting down slowly. The maintenance of your cognitive health - the capability to learn, think and remember things clearly - is essential for the overall health. Several things affect cognitive health, including a person’s lifestyle, environment, and genetics. They can all have a diverse impact on the thinking abilities and the aptitude to do everyday tasks.
It is common to feel some diminishing in the cognitive function as a person grows older. The decline in cognitive health might mean that the person starts occasionally forgetting words, losing things, or shortly skipping from the mind that day, time, or place. The person might also notice that it takes much longer than younger people to learn new stuff and retain it. The symptoms such as forgetting things and inability to learn quickly do not necessarily point out towards developing Alzheimer’s disease or some other type of dementia.
An aging expert at NIH, Dr. Marie Bernard, explains that “I like to believe about the brain as some computer disk for thinking and memory.” She further adds that “as a person gets older, it gets more and more occupied. So, it becomes more difficult to regain new data and add more data. But a person is still able to grow and learn.” Aging is associated with bringing in new changes. However, you can do many things and take several steps to preserve your cognitive health as you grow older. Some of the things to preserve your memory include realizing what puts your health at risk. The following healthy tips may help preserve and maintain your cognitive health.
- Staying Informed
The occasionally occurring memory problems are not the only issues that older adults are more likely to face. The growing age can bring many other changes to the way the brain functions normally. Some of the changes can adversely affect the ability to deal with complicated social situations, which can ultimately put you at greater risk of trapping in a scam. Dr. Patricia Boyle studying “aging brain” at the University of Rush, says, “Older adults are often the best targets by the scam artists.” It is more likely that the older adults might pick up the phone compared to younger adults without actually knowing who is calling. She further explains that “Simply by picking a phone call, you are opening yourself to someone who might be a fraud trying to rob you by engaging in a conversation.”
Usually, scams targeting older adults include charity scams, identity theft, people posing as relatives in despair to seek money, and fake or risky investments. Any older adult might fall victim to these types of scams. However, Boyle and her colleagues recently revealed that lesser awareness about the tricks in practice by the scam artists might be one of the early signs of a worsening function of the brain. In Boyle and her team’s study, people with low scam guidance are about twice more likely later to establish Alzheimer’s disease than those with scam awareness. Every person must verify any investment proposal or request money before acting on the investment. Boyle explains, “Take your time to deeply look into financial proposals and also make sure that they are legit by taking into confidence the trusted family members or friends.”
- Inverting The Changes
Several things can result in thinking, cognitive, or other memory problems. Anxiety, depression, certain medications, or even an infection might cause cognitive changes. Sometimes, these types of issues can resolve simply with a treatment. If a person might experience an abrupt change in memory, mood, or thinking, it might be due to a new medication. Some medications might not result in cognitive changes when we take them but can do so when one or two medications are in use as a combination. Even some common over-the-counter remedies or supplements can cause these types of interactions.
Sometimes, if a person has more than one medical professional, there is no explicit knowledge about what other doctors are prescribing. Dr. Bernard says, “Older adults can have benefited from taking a list of all their over-the-counter, prescribed and herbal medications whenever they go see a health care professional.” Certain drugs can also have deleterious or even fatal effects when they go into your body along with alcohol. Moreover, alcohol alone causes several risks for older adults’ brain health. It can take less alcohol to change coordination, judgment, sleep patterns or balance in an older adult.
Dangerous drinking habits are increasing among older adults in the US. According to NIH’s latest research, there 1 in every 10 Americans aging 65 years or older regularly do binge drinking. The NIH study means that drinking four or more drinks at the same time for women and having five or more drinks for women comes under the category of dangerous drinking. Older adults might change their drinking habits to cope with the death of a loved one or a partner or because they are lonely. But drinking might also be a part of social activities for older adults, explains Dr. Edith Sullivan, an alcohol researcher at Stanford University.
Sullivan says, “Older adults might start saying that I am old now and it is okay for me to drink.” However, older bodies and brains are particularly more vulnerable to alcohol effects, she adds. Recent research by Sullivan and her team using brain imaging to see how alcohol affects the brain reveals that older adults who misuse alcohol have greater loss of brain tissues than their peers who do not drink. The study’s findings are true even if they start misusing alcohol later in their lives. The positive news, she explains, is that some issues with thinking or memory might be arising due to alcohol misuse, or medications can have a solution. Sullivan says, “That’s different from classical dementia, which is a one-way street of diminishing.”
- Gaining Brain Power
There are several things that a person can do to protect and preserve his/her brain while getting older. Dr. Boyle explains, “Cognitive activity, social engagement and physical activity are associated with better cognitive functioning in older adulthood.” Managing the conditions of your health and overall well-being is very important. Keeping in control your blood pressure, for instance, lowers the risk of having a small stroke, i.e., bleeding from blood vessels in the brain. The occurrence of small strokes might lead towards permanent or temporary cognitive problems.
Having a sense of purpose in your life also helps preserve older adults from cognitive malfunctioning. A research study by Boyle and her team found that people who have a purpose in life suffer from fewer brain changes linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Boyle states that “The aging brain can pile up the changes to Alzheimer’s disease, but if you a person stimulates his brain and strengthens it like a muscle, then you may have a better ability to tolerate these changes.”
Dr. Bernard states that you can also have cognitive benefits with growing older. She explains, “Older adults have higher verbal capability than younger adults. The older people are better solvers of problems. Moreover, the assembled experiences are very helpful.” Dr. Bernard says, “Consider the positive changes that come along with aging. The growing age is a great time to engage in meaningful activities, establishing connections with family and friends, develop new connections, and try to more physically active. At the same time, all of these things can increase one’s aging and quality of life.”
- Wise Choices For Protecting Your Brain:
Overall, well-being can help a person maintain brain health. The following tips can assist you to stay active and healthier both mentally and physically:
- Drink enough water
- Get enough rest
- Switch to healthy foods whenever possible
- Cut out the excess use of alcohol
- Avoid smoking or the use of tobacco products
- Stay in connection with friends, your community and loved ones
- Try to manage chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes
- Keep your mind active by volunteering, learning and teaching
- Be more physically active
Cognition and Healthy Brain Aging Video – Brigham and Women’s Hospital