OK, let’s face it – we all get older. Well, there is that other option to getting older, but we won’t dwell on that 😉 . Getting older doesn’t have to be a bad thing. In fact, it can be a GREAT THING!
But, what to do about that aging brain. We don’t want to be seniors sitting around drooling and trying to remember what day it is. We want to be Upgraded Seniors!
Age-Proofing Your Brain
So, what are we to do to be sure that happens? Today I have some tips for you on age-proofing your brain, and even repairing your aging brain from some of the damage that you may already have done.
Let’s get one thing straight from the get-go. If you plan on staying alive (why am I suddenly thinking of John Travolta), aging is inevitable, but losing your mental acuity isn’t.
The latest brain research is teaching us that there are things that we have done and will do in the future that have a significant impact upon the condition of our brains. Things like the choices we make about work, play, nutrition, our social lives, our environments, and our spirituality can have a major effect on our brains’ continued ability to function into old age.
The National Institutes of Health sponsored an interesting 2009 study which found that most seniors experience cognitive decline over the years, but not all do. Ah, that’s what we Upgrading Seniors want to hear, not all do! Music to my ears.
Among people 65 years of age or older:
- 30% maintain good cognitive function
- 53% lose some cognitive function
- 16% lose a lot of cognitive function
Those stats mean that there could be ways to avoid mental decline, and that’s what we’re going to discuss here.
The National Institutes of Health study mentioned above showed that up to one-third of seniors don’t experience significant cognitive decline as they age. And here’s what’s really interesting.
Factors We Can Control Determine Cognitive Decline
Yep, the one-third of seniors who do not experience age-related cognitive decline are set apart by factors over which they had control. Of the 2,509 older people followed in the study for 8 years, the one-third who maintained their brain function shared these characteristics:
They were more likely to:
- Drink alcohol moderately (I’m not advocating alcohol consumption here. Just reporting.)
- Work or volunteer
And, they were less likely to:
- Be overweight
- Have high blood pressure
- Have diabetes
Now that’s a program we Upgrading Seniors can live with (literally)!
There’s more! Did you know that research is now showing that many of the most important aspects of brain functioning continue to expand as you age? Things such as deductive reasoning, general knowledge, and vocabulary improve with age, providing your take care of that brain.
One important thing that you can do to be sure that your brain continues to improve is to provide it with a stimulating environment. Did you know that your brain can actually build a reserve of “thinking power” or cognitive reserve?
Cognitive reserve consists of brain structures and networks built over your lifetime when you provide your brain with stimulating experiences. Continuing your education and being intellectually inquisitive are the keys here.
A 2009 report from the Bronx Aging Study which is following people in their 70s and 80s suggested that the type of leisure activities we pursue as we age is important. The researchers found that the more we engage in mentally stimulating activities such as reading, writing (like I’m doing right now 😉 ), working crossword puzzles, and playing music, the longer we delay the onset of rapid memory decline.
Here’s a surprise – passive activities such as watching TV don’t work. So, forget about vegging out on the couch in front of the idiot box. One study presented by Mayo Clinic researchers stated:
“But to enrich your mind, you need to find activities that are new to you and reasonably challenging.”
Work! (Anyone remember Maynard G. Krebs?)
If you don’t remember Maynard, you can Google it. But Maynard had a strong and unfavorable knee-jerk reaction to the word “work.”
Here’s a bummer. If your job involves critical thinking and social interaction, it will help you ward off age-related cognitive decline. So, maybe you shouldn’t retire and sit on the beach after all – at least not entirely. One study of 400 British men suggested that every year they continued to work was associated with roughly a 7 week delay in the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease symptoms.
Just don’t overdo the working thing. Research also shows mental decline among people who work too much, say more than 55 hours per week.
Exercise Wards Off Brain Decline
Research has shown this – repeatedly. I’m not going to elaborate further here.
Nutrition And Brain Health
This too is somewhat obvious and the topic for a post all its own. I don’t have to tell you that if you’re clogging your arteries with grease the blood flow to your brain is going to be decreasing and, guess what? Are you forgetting what day it is and, is that drool I see on your chin?
Sleep Improves Brain Function
That brain of yours needs time to rest and rebuild. If you burn the candle at both ends, you are going to have a tired brain. Tired brains, like tired athletes, don’t perform well.
Social Life and Brain Function
Harvard researchers found that scores on memory tests dropped twice as fast among people 50 and older who had few social connections. Don’t isolate yourself in old age.
In summary, here are the 10 things you need to pay attention to if you want to repair your aging brain and keep it working at its best:
- Don’t drink excessively
- Keep your weight down
- Keep an eye on your blood pressure
- Do what you can to avoid diabetes
- Don’t smoke
- Stimulate your brain regularly
- Consider working or volunteering even in old age
- Be socially engaged
- Get plenty of sleep