Take a Better Look at Cognitive Health

If you find yourself not as sharp as you used to be, now that you’re in your 60s, or that you’re forgetting things more easily, the truth of the matter is that that’s not unusual.

The Aging Brain

As time goes on, the normal human brain may shrink by up to 15%1. The deterioration of human brain capacity starts as early as your mid-20s and eventually leads to difficulties with problem solving, focusing or general recollection2. If untreated, however, these symptoms could be forbearers to Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Besides aging, cognitive decline is affected by many other factors such as declining hormone levels, excess body weight, and improper nutrition and an unhealthy lifestyle. There is a silver lining though. Cognitive training, proper nutrition and a proactive lifestyle can reverse age-related cognitive decline.

Mild Cognitive Impairment

While cognitive decline is a natural process attributed to aging, mild cognitive impairment is a more serious condition. It is an intermediate stage between cognitive decline and dementia. People suffering from mild cognitive impairment tend to be more forgetful, and have difficulties with judgment, thinking or even language. Mild cognitive impairment affects about 10% to 20% in adults aged 65 years and older3.

If you have any of these symptoms, be sure to visit your local doctor. It might not be anything beyond the normal aging of the brain, but this could also be your chance to stop dementia and Alzheimer’s disease before it worsens.

Risk Factors

There are a few factors associated with cognitive decline. One such factor is inflammation. What happens is that the integrity of the cells that separate your brain from the rest of your circulatory system – commonly known as the blood-brain barrier – is compromised, thanks to factors like smoking, obesity, irregular sleep and an improper diet. This results in the blood-brain barrier allowing irritants to enter the brain. Those irritants stimulate the production of cytokines, which are proteins that damage new neurons and destroy existing ones.4

Changes in your hormone levels can also lead to cognitive impairment. According to the Life Extension foundation for medical research, studies on animals have shown that experimentally induced changes in the level of the hormone estradiol in the brain can cause behavioural alterations5. After menopause women with higher levels of estradiol demonstrate better memory. Maintaining optimal levels of testosterone in men can help also preserve cognitive ability.

Our carotid arteries are what supply oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to the brain. If these blood vessels don’t function properly, cognition is impaired. Due to the high metabolic demand for energy in the brain, even small alterations in glucose metabolism can influence cognitive performance. Diabetes, for example, has been associated with decreased brain volume and higher incidence of all types of dementia.

Obesity can also contribute to cognitive decline. According to the Life Extension foundation, research indicates that as body weight increases, brain volume drops and cognitive function worsens. Psychoanalytical tests have even found that cognitive impairment is closely correlated with traits such as boredom-proneness, loneliness, small social network, and high stress.

Preventing Cognitive Decline

With an aging population, the proportion of those suffering from cognitive decline is growing. There are few effective options for treating the condition, but that isn’t to say that it’s completely untreatable though.

The most effective ways of treating it were physical activity and mental exercise. Resistance training improved short and long term memory, while aerobic activities helped with planning and organising. Mental exercise proved to have the most dramatic benefits among healthy elderly adults. Computer-based training programs or performing memory, reasoning and speed-processing exercises have shown to be extremely effective ways of improving cognitive abilities.

A healthy diet also has a positive impact on cognitive health. Anti-aging nutrients include antioxidants (like Vitamin C and E, which are found green tea), unsaturated fatty acids (found in cod liver oil and flaxseed oil), and minerals like potassium (found in bananas) and Vitamin B1 (found in pork and rice). Plan your diet with your doctor to find the most effective foods not just for your cognitive health, but your physical health as well.

Some forgetfulness is understandable as you age, but you shouldn’t lose huge chunks of what makes you who you are. Keep your cognitive health up and enjoy these – the best years of your life – to their fullest.

References

  1. http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424053111903999904576468224286877908
  2. http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-03/uov-cdb031909.php
  3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25514304
  4. http://www.lef.org/Protocols/Neurological/Age-Related-Cognitive-Decline/Page-01?checked=1
  5. http://www.lef.org/Protocols/Neurological/Age-Related-Cognitive-Decline/Page-01
  6. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mild-cognitive-impairment/basics/definition/con-20026392
  7. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/mildcognitiveimpairment.html
  8. http://www.canyonranch.com/your-health/health-healing/staying-healthy/brain-fitness/how-your-brain-changes-age
  9. http://www.cmaj.ca/content/early/2013/04/15/cmaj.121448

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