Senior Moments: How to Counteract Age-Related Cognitive Decline
No matter our age, we’ve all had them. Many of us even good-naturedly rib each other about occasional lapses in memory or focus.
Next Saturday, July 22, is World Brain Day, established to promote the importance of brain health.
Our brains are exceptionally complex and manage everything we experience in life: our actions and reactions, senses, emotions, and how we process the world around us.
Over our lifetimes, our brains change more than any other organ in our body. As we reach our golden years, however, our brains change rapidly and many of us notice negative changes in cognitive skills like memory, attention, and our ability to learn.
Why do these changes occur?
Many factors contribute to brain health, but there are three significant factors I’d like to discuss that can lead to those annoying “senior moments.”
First, our brains begin shrinking long before we reach senior status. Brain volume begins decreasing in our 40s, primarily in the frontal lobe and hippocampus. These areas of our brain are essential for our memories, as well as attention, learning, problem-solving, and even our personalities.
Second, as we age, our bodies become less efficient at dispersing oxygen. While our brains may only account for about 2% of our total body mass, they need about 20% of the oxygen-rich blood pumping through us. As we grow older, our blood vessels can narrow, weaken, or become blocked, limiting blood and oxygen flow and hindering our brain cells’ ability to function.
Finally, the white matter in our brains deteriorates over time. These bundles of nerve fibers pass impulses and information between the different areas of our brains. White matter atrophy slows these lines of communication, impacting how quickly we process information.
Can changes to the brain be stopped?
Some brain atrophy is inevitable. Fortunately, there are many ways to slow the progression of these changes and improve our brain health, no matter our age.
First, take measures to control chronic conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, which all have been linked to cognitive decline. Taking medications as directed, reducing alcohol intake, eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly will both manage these conditions and improve your brain health. And of course, if you smoke, quit now.
Speaking of diet and exercise, both have significant impacts on brain function. The MIND Diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurogenerative Delay) is designed to defer the onset of cognitive decline. This diet is high in omega-3 fatty acids to strengthen brain cell structure, flavonoids for improving blood flow, and antioxidants to reduce the buildup of plaques. Brain foods on this plan also include berries, nuts, olive oil, whole grains and beans.
You might think that exercise is only beneficial for our muscles, bones, and heart, but it’s also essential for brain health.
Cardiovascular exercise gets our blood pumping, feeding our brains with oxygen-rich blood.
Weight and resistance training has been found to prevent hippocampus shrinkage, improving memory and executive function. Both should be part of your exercise routine at least three days a week.
Staying mentally and socially active can also slow the progression of age-related cognitive decline. Learning new skills, playing games like crosswords or sudoku, and spending time with others all help keep our brains active and alert.
Finally, oxygen and blood flow can also be improved through interventions like the Aviv Medical Program, a holistic treatment program that includes nutrition coaching, cognitive exercises, physical training, and a unique hyperbaric oxygen protocol designed for optimizing brain performance.
At Aviv Clinics at the Center for Advanced Healthcare at Brownwood, we specialize in treating age-related conditions. To discover more tips from our clinical team, we invite you to visit one of our event – click here for the full list of events. Or you can contact the clinic and schedule a consultation with one of our physicians.
One of the healthiest agers I know is Dr. Joseph Maroon. At 83 years young, Dr. Maroon is team neurosurgeon for the Pittsburgh Steelers and vice chairman of the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. He’s also an eight-time Ironman triathlon finisher and an Aviv Clinics alumnus.
Watch Dr. Maroon’s story: