As you get older, your body and brain will change. There are, however, certain things you can do to assist in slowing memory loss and reduce your chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias.
In order of importance, these are five things I recommend to my patients:
Every person’s brain changes as they get older, and so does their mental performance.
Mental decline is a typical occurrence, and it’s one of the most feared side effects of growing older.
Vascular risks increase brain health risks
The researchers were able to use the brain scans to quantify exactly how much brain matter is lost when these vascular risk factors are present.
People with the highest vascular risk had around 18 milliliters (ml), or nearly 3 percent, less volume of gray matter compared to people without the risk factors.
Grey matter is brain tissue on the surface of the brain that houses most of the neurons. Neurons send messages through your brain to your body. When they’re impaired, your reactions and processing slow down.
Additionally, these scans showed that individuals with vascular risk had one-and-a-half times the damage to their white matter compared to people without the risks.
White matter is deeper in the brain than gray matter. It naturally declines with age, but previous research has shown that white matter loss is linked to slower thought processing and reduced executive functioning. Vascular risk factors may speed up this loss.
The study also found that damage to the brain wasn’t even across the whole of the brain. Indeed, specific areas were more likely to be affected by the atrophy, and these areas have significant impacts on cognitive health.
“The areas affected were mainly those known to be linked to our more complex thinking skills and to those areas that show changes in dementia and ‘typical’ Alzheimer’s disease,” Cox said.
“Although the differences in brain structure were generally quite small, these are only a few possible factors of a potentially huge number of things that might affect brain aging.”
Any perceived protective benefits of younger age are wiped out when these vascular risk factors are present, the researchers also discovered.
“We found that higher vascular risk is linked to the worse brain structure, even in adults who were otherwise healthy,” Cox said in a statement. “These links were just as strong for people in middle age as they were for those in later life, and the addition of each risk factor increased the size of the association with worse brain health.”
“No matter what age, our behaviors impact the health of our bodies and our brains,” Dr. David A. Merrill, Ph.D., neurologist, and geriatric psychiatrist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, told PakOption.
“This means that younger adults need to be aware of the importance of not taking on unhealthy habits like smoking, physical inactivity, overeating, or unhealthy eating. Even in younger adults, unhealthy habits can take a toll on the structural integrity of the brain and its connections,” Merrill said.
“This is a very important study, which serves as a wake-up call to all patients who have cardiovascular risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, high pulse pressure, diabetes, and obesity,” Guy L. Mintz, director of cardiovascular health and lipidology at Northwell Health’s Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital in Manhasset, New York, told PakOption.
“This study demonstrated that these risk factors are associated with brain shrinkage. The cause for this type of brain damage is a most likely injury to the blood vessels.”
While this study didn’t connect the changes in brain size and brain matter to changes in thinking skills — future studies from this group may tackle that question — it does point to the importance of preventing vascular risk factors with lifestyle changes and traditional medical approaches when necessary.
Keep Your Brain Healthy
However, cognitive decline is not unavoidable. Here are 12 strategies to keep your brain in good shape.
1. Get mental stimulation
Scientists have discovered that brainy activities create new connections between nerve cells and may even help the brain generate new cells, resulting in neurological “plasticity” and the development of a functional reserve that protects against future cell loss in mice and humans.
Any mentally engaging activity should aid in brain development. Reading, taking classes, and engaging in “mental gymnastics” such as word puzzles or math problems are all good ideas.
Experiment with things like drawing, painting, and other crafts that demand both manual dexterity and mental work.
2. Get physical exercise
According to research, using your muscles also benefits your intellect. Animals that exercise regularly increase the number of small blood arteries that deliver oxygen-rich blood to the thought-processing area of the brain.
Exercise also promotes the growth of new nerve cells and the strengthening of connections between brain cells (synapses). This leads to more efficient, malleable, and adaptable brains, which translates to improved performance in older animals.
3. Improve your diet
A good diet can benefit both your mind and your body. People who follow a Mediterranean-style diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, unsaturated oils (olive oil), and plant-based protein sources, for example, are less prone to suffer cognitive impairment and dementia.
4. Exercise regularly.
My first piece of advice to my patients is to continue exercising. Exercise has a slew of well-documented advantages, and it appears that regular physical activity is beneficial to the brain.
Physically active adults are less likely to have a deterioration in mental function and have a lower risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease, according to multiple studies. These advantages are thought to be due to increased blood flow to the brain during exercise.
It also has the ability to counteract some of the natural declines in brain connections that occur as people age, effectively reversing some of the issues.
Aim for 30–60 minutes of activity several times per week. You can walk, swim, play tennis, or engage in any other moderately aerobic activity.
5. Get plenty of sleep.
Your brain’s health is influenced by how well you sleep. According to some ideas, sleep helps your brain eliminate aberrant proteins and consolidate memories, which improves your overall memory and brain health.
It is critical that you receive seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep per night, rather than two- or three-hour chunks. Consistent sleep allows your brain to consolidate and remember memories more effectively.
Sleep apnea is bad for your brain’s health and could be the reason you can’t sleep for more than a few hours at a time. If you or a family member suspects you have sleep apnea, speak with your doctor.
6. Eat a Mediterranean diet.
Your nutrition has a significant impact on your mental health. My patients should try the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes plant-based meals, whole grains, fish, and healthy fats like olive oil. It has far less red meat and salt than the average American diet.
According to studies, persons who adhere to a Mediterranean diet are less likely to get Alzheimer’s disease than those who do not.
More research is needed to determine which aspects of the diet have the most impact on your mental health.
We do know, however, that omega fatty acids present in extra-virgin olive oil and other healthy fats are necessary for your cells to operate properly, that they appear to lower your risk of coronary artery disease, and that they improve mental focus and slow cognitive decline in older people.
7. Stay mentally active.
Your brain is like a muscle: if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. You can keep your brain in shape by practicing crossword puzzles or Sudoku, reading, playing cards, or putting together a jigsaw puzzle, among other activities.
Consider it mental cross-training. Therefore, combine a variety of activities to boost efficiency.
I don’t endorse any of the current paid brain-training programs. These programs frequently make promises they can’t keep or concentrate on memorizing abilities that aren’t applicable in actual life.
Reading or solving puzzles can give your brain a wonderful exercise as well. Finally, limit your television viewing.
8. Remain socially involved.
Depression and stress, both of which can lead to memory loss, are aided by social engagement. If you live alone, look for opportunities to connect with loved ones, friends, and others.
Solitary confinement has been linked to brain atrophy in studies, so staying socially active may have the opposite impact and help your brain stay healthy.
9. Care for your emotions
On cognitive function tests, those who are nervous, sad, sleep-deprived, or fatigued tend to do badly. Poor scores may not always indicate a higher risk of cognitive impairment in old age, although mental health and peaceful sleep are key goals. Do not overindulge in television viewing.
10. Improve your cholesterol
High levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol are associated with an increased risk of dementia. Diet, exercise, weight control, and avoiding tobacco will go a long way toward improving your cholesterol levels.
But if you need more help, ask your doctor about medication.
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