Around a third of people aged 85 or older show signs of Alzheimer’s, which is the leading cause of dementia and cognitive decline. Many people are worried about cognitive decline as they age, as it can severely impact their quality of life.
There aren’t any proven methods of preventing cognitive decline; however, there are some things that you can do to improve your brain health, which should help to maintain good cognitive function as you age.
A study by Harvard medical school showed that a combination of a healthy diet, exercising regularly, socializing, and regularly challenging your brain can not only slow cognitive decline but, in some cases, can actually restore lost mental capacity.
The diet that was advocated for by the study was a Mediterranean diet, which involves:
- Eating lots of vegetables, nuts, seeds, fruits, fish, whole grains, seafood, and extra virgin olive oil.
- Moderately eating poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt.
- Rarely eating red meat.
- Avoiding added sugars, fizzy drinks, processed meat, refined grains, and other highly processed foods.
There is a lot of discussion over what exactly is meant by a Mediterranean diet, but generally, it is understood to be a diet that is high in plant-based foods and low in animal products. Eating fish once or twice a week is advocated for, especially oily fish like salmon, high in healthy fats and omega 3.
The Mediterranean lifestyle overall is one that is very healthy not just because of the diet, but because it involves lots of exercise, sharing meals, and generally enjoying life.
Regularly socializing with other people is a key part of keeping your brain healthy. Regular contact with other people helps us to feel a sense of connection and keep loneliness at bay, which is essential for both our physical and mental health.
It’s thought that regular socializing could make us better able to deal with stress, and it also helps to train our brains. When we talk with other people, we see things from a different point of view, which helps to maintain our ability to understand things in a new light. This is beneficial to the health of our minds. Socializing can also help us to learn. Have you ever found that if you have to learn something in order to teach someone else, you retain that information much more efficiently than if you learn it just for yourself? This is because we are designed to be a social species, working together for the greater good of the group. It’s also thought that maintaining close friendships later in life can prevent mental decline because we maintain that sense of connection.
Loneliness is a huge problem amongst the elderly and may be a contributing factor to cognitive decline. This is why good senior living communities like Frontier Management LLC put such a strong emphasis on building strong communities and helping their residents to stay as engaged as possible. Not only is it essential for their happiness, but it’s also important for their health.
Challenging your mind
Regularly challenging your mind is a great way to preserve your cognitive function. It’s thought that regularly playing games and solving puzzles can help to improve neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the ability your brain has to form new connections, grow new neurons, and rewire itself. Neuroplasticity is important for maintaining cognitive function.
It’s true that playing games and solving puzzles can improve neuroplasticity. However, it’s important to note that this is only true for games and puzzles with certain characteristics:
- This means that a game should be new to you so that it takes a little work to figure out how to play it. Any game you’ve played a few times before won’t be quite as novel, so it’s a good idea to try playing lots of different types of games.
- The game should be somewhat taxing to you; if you find it easy, it won’t be doing much.
- Try to play lots of different types of games so that your brain is constantly having to figure out something new.
From video games to sudoku, any game can provide you with these three factors, depending on you as an individual. You don’t have to force yourself to do crossword puzzles if you hate them!
Look after your heart health
Heart disease slows the flow of blood around your body, including to your brain. Because of this, heart disease is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s.
Take care of your heart health by quitting smoking, moderating your drinking, eating healthily, and exercising regularly, and you will be taking care of your mind as well.
Exercising regularly can reduce your risk of dementia by 30%. This goes up to 45% for Alzheimer’s sufferers specifically.
Aerobic exercise (exercise that increases your heart rate) such as walking, running, and dancing improves memory, attention, and processing speed. Aerobic exercise is much more effective for cognitive function than non-aerobic exercise, such as toning and stretching.
In general, it’s a good idea to take part in some form of aerobic exercise several times a week, ensuring that each session lasts 20-30 minutes.
The benefits are even higher if you can find an aerobic exercise that you enjoy because having fun keeps you more engaged with your life. And… it’s fun! Experiment with lots of different types of exercise and see which you like best. Even dancing around your kitchen can have great health benefits.
Look after your mental health
Depression and anxiety are both risk factors for dementia and Alzheimer’s, so it’s really important that you take steps to look after your mental health if you want to maintain healthy cognitive function. Looking after your mental health means doing things like:
- Prioritizing sleep and rest
- Talking regularly with friends and loved ones
- Asking for help and support
- Eating healthily
- Drinking sensibly
- Taking a break!
Many of us can get swept up in trying to ‘achieve’ all of the time, which is important for our wellbeing. However, equally important is to allow ourselves to just ‘be’ and to enjoy our lives.