Senior Health Guide: Keeping Your Brain Young
As people age, some may notice a lapse in memory. It could start with small changes: forgetting a phone number, mixing up people’s names or getting confused while driving to routine destinations. Even though these are common mistakes — given that decline in brain function is startlingly widespread among aging adults — they can be scary to say the least.
While memory loss and other issues are commonly associated with an aging brain, that doesn’t mean it is inevitable. Senior citizens — and the people who love them — don’t have to sit back helplessly and accept forgetfulness as an inevitable part of their daily lives. The good news is there are numerous ways to combat cognitive decline. With that in mind, here’s a look at what you need to know about memory loss, along with practical tips for keeping your brain young.
What Causes Memory Loss
Currently, about 50 million people worldwide suffer from dementia. However, in the next 30 years that number is expected to triple. A variety of factors contribute to this mental impairment in seniors. Blood flow to the brain may decrease, for example, and inflammation in brain tissue may increase. The communication between nerve cells tends to worsen with age. These physical changes can make it harder to recall information, learn new things and complete more than one task at a time. For these reasons, it is important to understand how to fight back against age-related memory loss.
How You Can Take Steps to Combat Cognitive Decline
Many of the steps you can take to improve brain health are as effective for seniors as they are for younger people. Getting enough sleep, for example, is crucial in order to optimize memory and mental cognition. It’s also a foundation of physical wellness.
Likewise, eating healthy and staying physically active are key to keeping your brain firing on all cylinders. Maintaining a healthy weight is vital for fighting dementia and heart disease. Vigorous exercise for at least 30 minutes, five to six times a week can result in all kinds of health benefits. To help the brain, committing to regular aerobic activity is an absolute must.
Here are some other ideas to work against the damaging effects of an aging brain:
- Take medications properly. As we age, the brain becomes more vulnerable to damage. That’s why it is even more important to be careful about medication usage. Always take the proper prescriptions to avoid harmful side effects to the mind and body. Likewise, talk to a doctor about how your medications could impact your mental capacities. If certain drugs are making it harder for you to remember things, adjustments may be necessary.
- Stay socially active. While the golden years may not have the same interpersonal connections that come from work or school, that doesn’t mean you can afford to ignore your social life. Especially as a person ages, talking to others can boost happiness, raise alertness and sharpen mental focus. Get together with a friend. Go to parties. Get out of the house. Staying socially engaged is a significant part of maintaining mental dexterity.
- Continue to learn new things. It’s too easy to laze about and escape into a mindless activity, but this can encourage cognitive decline. Instead, look for opportunities to learn and grow. Even reading books or giving a previously untried activity a chance can be valuable. You could take a class at your local community college, or try eating dinner with your nondominant hand. The point is to boost brain plasticity by maintaining mental challenge.
- Stop smoking. If you haven’t already stopped cigarette usage, do it now for the good of your brain. Smoking has been shown to increase the risk of mental impairment.
- Play timed games. There are plenty of mentally stimulating pastimes available, but timed games are especially good for helping your brain multitask, concentrate and exercise memory capacity. From computer games to board games, the habit of mental play is highly beneficial.
The truth is, people have more power than they realize to protect their brains as they age. If you or someone you love is at risk for cognitive decline, consider how the above tips and lifestyle changes could make a difference. For more information, check out the accompanying resource.