Learning new abilities, such as how to use a tablet, may stimulate your brain as you become older, according to a study.
So you’ve noticed a shift in your mindset. Perhaps you frequently misplace your keys or have difficulty finding the proper word to say in a conversation. But how do you know if these changes are a normal aspect of aging or if they could indicate a health issue like dementia?
What Happens to Your Brain as You Grow Older
As you become older, the volume of your brain reduces. Some nerve cells in your brain may shrink or lose connections with other nerve cells as a result of this. As you become older, your brain’s blood flow slows down a little. These age-related alterations are assumed to be the cause of the cognitive deficits that many people perceive as they get older.
How Dementia Affects Cognitive Functioning
When nerve cells in the brain stop working, lose connections with other brain cells, and die, dementia develops. Dementia is defined by the National Institute on Aging as a loss of two or more key abilities, such as memory, language skills, visual perception, and the capacity to focus and pay attention. Cognitive abilities, such as reasoning and problem-solving, may also be impaired.
Dementia can be caused by a variety of factors, including:
- Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is the most prevalent cause of dementia, and it happens when nerve cells in the brain are damaged or die. The disease affects the areas of the brain responsible for thinking, memory, problem-solving, language use, and other cognitive abilities.
- Vascular dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, vascular dementia is a reduction in thinking skills caused by cerebrovascular disease, a condition in which brain blood arteries are compromised and brain tissue is harmed, depriving brain cells of crucial oxygen and nutrients.
- Lewy body dementia. Lewy body dementia, the third most prevalent type of dementia, is caused by aberrant protein deposits that build up inside nerve cells, forming clumps known as Lewy bodies. As a result, nerve cells lose their ability to function properly and begin to perish. Thinking, memory, behavior, sleep, mood, and movement are all affected.
- Frontotemporal dementia. Degeneration of the frontal and/or temporal lobes of the brain causes frontotemporal dementia, which is the most frequent form of dementia in adults under the age of 60. According to The Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration, FTD causes a gradual, cumulative decline in behavior, language, or mobility, with memory normally remaining reasonably intact.
- Other types of dementia. Infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), Huntington’s disease, head trauma, and other medical diseases can alter nerve cells in the brain, resulting in dementia symptoms.
7 Ways to Stay Mentally Sharp as You Get Older
According to promising research, the following steps can help you keep your mind fresh as you age:
- Control your cholesterol and blood pressure levels. These conditions can raise your risk of heart disease and stroke, both of which are linked to the development of certain types of dementia. In a study published in PLoS One, cardiovascular health — having healthy blood sugar, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure, as well as being physically active, eating a nutritious diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and not smoking — was linked to better cognitive function.
- Don’t overdo it with the smoking or drinking. Because both of these are associated with an increased risk of dementia, quit smoking and drink in moderation if you do.
- Exercise on a regular basis. Regular physical activity is thought to help maintain blood flow to the brain and lower your risk of conditions associated with the development of dementia, such as high blood pressure. According to a 2015 study published in the Annals of Medicine, consistent vigorous exercise helps lower the risk of dementia.
- Consume a nutritious diet. According to a 2016 article published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, researchers discovered strong evidence that vitamin E, B vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids, along with avoiding saturated fat, could help prevent dementia. Green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, berries, and seafood, in particular, have been found to be neuroprotective by researchers. The Mediterranean diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet have also been found to have dementia-protective benefits in studies. The Mediterranean diet emphasizes vegetables, healthy fats like olive oil, and omega-3 fatty acids from fish, whereas the DASH diet emphasizes fruits and vegetables, fat-free or low-fat dairy, whole grains, and lean meats, as well as limiting red meat and limiting processed foods. According to an article published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, a new diet called MIND (Mediterranean–DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) incorporates many elements of the Mediterranean diet and DASH, but with modifications that reflect current evidence for brain neuroprotection.
- Obtain a good education. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, people with more years of formal education have a lower risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementias than those with fewer years of formal education. Some researchers believe that more years of education build “cognitive reserve,” which is the brain’s ability to use connections between neurons (nerve cells) to allow you to continue performing cognitive tasks despite damaging brain changes.
- Brain stimulation. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, having a mentally stimulating job and engaging in other mentally stimulating activities can help build cognitive reserve. Learning new skills is another way to keep your mind active. According to a 2017 study published in The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, learning new skills in later life, such as those related to adopting new technologies, may have the potential to reduce or delay cognitive changes associated with aging. In the study, older adults attended a weekly two-hour class to learn how to use a tablet computer. Participation in this new, mentally challenging activity was associated with improved processing speed after a 10-week training period.
- Increase your socialization. Making new friends or spending time with old ones may be beneficial to your brain. A 2018 study published in Scientific Reports that looked at older adults in China discovered that those who engaged in social activities on a consistent basis were less likely to develop dementia than those who engaged in activities on a consistent basis.