Do you find yourself being more forgetful than usual? Are you misplacing your keys or running into a mental roadblock when trying to come up with the right words to say in a conversation? As you age, it is common for your brain to also age, which can cause changes in the way you think. An important distinction you need to make when this occurs is knowing if these changes are part of the aging process or if they are signs of a more significant health problem such as dementia. One way to help you make this distinction is to learn how the brain ages.
The Aging Process of the Brain
It is normal for the brain to change, seeing that it has already been changing since the moment it began to develop. As you get older though, your brain goes through some big changes. For example, the size of your brain slowly shrinks as you age. This can cause the nerve cells in your brain to also shrink or lose their connection with other nerve cells. Along with this, the blood flow within your brain slows down as you get older. Although this all sounds bad, there is no need to panic yet. According to the American Psychological Association, “many studies have shown that the brain remains capable of regrowth and of learning and retaining new facts and skills throughout life, especially for people who get regular exercise and frequent intellectual stimulation”. As long as you take the right steps, you have a better chance of mentally staying sharp as you age.
What is Dementia?
Dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, is a term used to describe a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with your daily life. This mental decline can range from loss of memory and language skills to deteriorating perception and judgement. There are four main forms of dementia, including:
- Alzheimer’s disease- the most common kind of dementia which leads to the gradual decline in cognitive ability.
- Vascular dementia- often brought on by cardiovascular problems, mainly strokes.
- Lewy body dementia- brain cells located in certain areas of the brain die and leave abnormal, protein-filled nerve cells known as Lewy bodies.
- Frontotemporal dementia- nerve cells located in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain begin to degenerate, which can cause interference with brain activity and even result in brain cell death.
There are other forms of dementia, such as Huntington’s disease, but those are more uncommon.
Ways to Keep Your Mind Sharp
If you start to notice changes occurring and you want to improve the sharpness of your brain, there are different ways you can do this.
- Continue learning – According to the Alzheimer’s Association, people with less education are at a higher risk for dementia. Because of this, it is important to keep your mind stimulated through socialization, learning new skills, playing challenging games such as Sudoku, and participating in other activities that require you to have an engaged mind.
- Exercise regularly – Consistent physical activity can help maintain blood flow to the brain, which will boost and maintain brain function.
- Eat a healthy diet – It is believed that eating more vegetables and fish while staying away from saturated fats can help lower the risk for cognitive decline.
- Control your cholesterol and high blood pressure – These factors can increase risk for heart disease and stroke which is thought to contribute to the development of certain types of dementia.
- Don’t drink or smoke excessively – Both activities are believed to increase the risk of dementia, so if you do drink and smoke it might be in your favor to do so in moderation if you cannot kick the habit.
Consult with a Physician
If you or a loved one is beginning to experience cognitive loss, it is important that you consult with a physician. The suggestions provided in this article do not replace professional medical advice. Your mind is going to change as you age, but if you want to try to slow down or avoid these changes there are different ways to do so. If you believe that you or a loved one is at a greater risk, seek medical attention.