The brain controls different aspects of thinking, including remembering, organising, planning, and decision making. These cognitive capacities influence peoples’ ability to do everyday tasks and determine if they can live independently.
This blog comprehensively explains how ageing affects mental health and the steps people can prevent cognitive decline.
What are some of the regular changes that occur in the brain as people age?
When people age, the systems in their body, including the brain slowly decline. Slips in memory are related to people getting older..
Older adults often get anxious about memory slips since there is a relationship between impaired memory and Alzheimer’s disease. However age-related memory loss is not always indicative of Alzheimer’s disease. Common memory changes that are related to ageing include:
- Difficulty learning new things – committing the memory to new information can take longer.
- Multitasking – slower processing can make multitasking more difficult.
- Hard to recall names and numbers – strategic memory begins to decline at 20. Strategic memory assists in remembering names and numbers.
- Challenge to remember appointments
- Researchers believe that during brain ageing, the following changes can occur:
- Brain mass – when people reach the age of 60 or 70, the shrinkage in the frontal lobe and hippocampus begins. These brain areas are involved in higher cognitive function and help encode new memories.
- Cortical density decrease refers to the diminishing of the outer-ridged surface of the brain because of the declining synaptic connections. Fewer connections can contribute to slower cognitive processing.
- White matter – white matter comprises myelinated nerve fibres bundled into tracts. It carries nerve signals between brain cells. Researchers believe that myelin shrinks with age, and, as a result, the processing is slower and cognitive function decreases.
- Neurotransmitter systems – researchers believe that the brain produces fewer chemical messengers with age. Dopamine, acetylcholine, serotonin, and norepinephrine activity reduce as people age, thus decreasing cognition and memory and increasing the risk of depression. By knowing the neural basis of cognitive decline, researchers may discover the therapies or strategies to help slow or prevent brain deterioration.
What can people do to prevent cognitive decline?
Aerobic exercise and cognitive stimulation can help improve brain function as people age. Activities such as hiking, Nordic walking, and light jogging can boost not only brain function but also minimize the symptoms of depression.
The brain improves with stimulation in the same way muscle improves with exercise. The brain’s stimulation helps increase people’s concentration abilities. Apart from getting a healthy amount of exercise, people must adopt some of the following ideas into their daily routine to help them reverse their cognitive decline.
People must avoid doing two things at once or switching between tasks because they can get distracted. They can improve their concentration by focusing on one task at a time, finishing it, and moving on to the next. One of the main distractions today are mobile devices .
Avoid working for long hours at once
People must not work for long hours on one single task, since it is unproductive. Research has indicated that people achieve high-quality results when working for short periods while regularly resting between each period because it helps with focus. When people try to do one task for an extended period, their mind starts to wander. Each individual has a different time frame that works best for them.
Stay connected with social activities
People can keep their brains active when connecting with others through social activities and community programs. It also helps them feel less isolated and more engaged with their world.
Social activities can reduce the risk for certain health problems and improve well-being. People engaging in productive and purposeful activities with others tend to have a sense of purpose, an improved mood, and live longer.
Exercise provides many health benefits. It aids in preventing heart disease and type 2 diabetes. It also reduces the risk of high blood pressure and colon and breast cancer. A regular exercise regime in a person’s life eases insomnia, anxiety, and depression. Additionally, it can help prevent cognitive decline and dementia. Certain studies have shown that regular exercise improves cognitive function in people who already suffer from memory problems. Exercise may benefit people who carry the APOE4 gene variant, who may be more vulnerable to Alzheimer’s.
Eat a healthy diet
A healthy diet can help minimise the risk of many chronic diseases, including heart disease or diabetes. It can also help people keep their brains healthy. Generally, a healthy diet must consist of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, poultry, fish, and dairy products that do not contain or are low in fat. People must also restrict their consumption of solid fats, sugar, and salt. They must also control portion sizes and drink sufficient water.
Limit alcohol consumption
Some older studies indicate that people who consume an average of one alcoholic beverage per day may have a lower risk of suffering from dementia. However, experts do not suggest the consumption of alcohol to prevent cognitive decline. If a person wants to drink alcohol occasionally, they must limit their consumption to no more than one drink per day.
People must get consistent and good-quality sleep since it improves overall health. Our bodies depend on a certain amount of regular sleep to perform essential functions. Studies have indicated that people who regularly sleep less than the suggested seven to eight hours a night score low on tests of mental function. It can be due to the consolidation of learning and memory during sleep.
Learn something new
People must stimulate their brains to improve brain function by getting outside their comfort zone and learning something new. People benefit from learning new things because it reduces stress and promotes a positive outlook on life.
When should you call the doctor?
It would be best to speak to the doctor when you are worried about changes in your thinking and memory. The doctor can help you determine if the changes are normal or if they may indicate any underlying health issues.
Ageing does cause a decline in mental function, even in those who are healthy. However, people can take numerous steps to prevent cognitive decline. They include regular exercise, maintaining social contacts, consuming a nutritious diet, and restricting the consumption of alcohol.