Preventing Cognitive Decline with advancing age
What trait did these famous personalities – Ronald Regan, a past president of the United States, Rita Hayworth, top star of the ’40s and ’50s,’ Charlton Heston, an Oscar award winner, Norman Rockwell, the famous American painter, and Perry Cuomo, the most popular singer of our time, share toward the end of their lives? They all developed Alzheimer’s disease that took away their lives.
As you get older, forgetfulness raises its ugly head. You’re hunting for your car keys again or you don’t remember where you parked your car in the large parking lot at the International Plaza. Or you couldn’t get the right word to use during a conversation (as we often say, “it’s on the tip of my tongue”!). These days, maybe it’s your iPhone … where did I leave it? Then a thought comes to you, “Am I losing memory? Is it the beginning of Alzheimer’s?” Relax; most of us suffer from a little forgetfulness as we get older. That doesn’t mean you have the beginning of Alzheimer’s disease.
Memory slips, otherwise called cognitive decline or impairment, become more common as we start aging. So, it’s important to learn how to lower our risk and boost memory skills. "Eventually, your cognitive skills will wane and thinking and memory will be more challenging, so you need to build up your reserve," says Dr. John N. Morris, director of social and health policy research at the Harvard-affiliated Institute for Aging Research. "Embracing a new activity that forces you to think and learn and requires ongoing practice can be one of the best ways to keep the brain healthy."
Memory defines who we are and is critical for the conduct of our life. So, it’s time to take control of your brain health and, modern science has shown that we have the ability to do just that. Fortunately, genetics plays only a small role in the development of the disease and lifestyle factors have bigger impact, which means we have better control in the long run. While there is as yet no proven drug to cure or prevent cognitive decline, healthy lifestyle habits are critical for brain health.
Memory training for your brain: There are simple memory enhancement skills that will improve neural activity in the brain like the ability to calculate, verbal reasoning, trying to remember names and faces, etc. According to Gary Small, M.D., director of UCLA Longevity Center, the three things you have to do for better memory are, “Focus your attention on what you want to recall later, take a mental snapshot of the information you want to learn and then create a visual association to connect up your mental snapshot for later recall.” He calls it “Look, Snap and Connect.”
Physical exercise protects our brain: In addition to keeping our body healthy and making us feeling young, regular physical activity also protects our brains and improve the memory. Walking is a safe and convenient form of exercise; at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise spread over five days a week will get you there. Swimming is equally good or even better since it also involves some thinking and processing like being mindful of your breathing rhythm and executing proper strokes. Adding a little resistance exercises, like lifting small weights, will also improve the brain muscle.
Eat more brain foods: Vegetables, especially spinach, lentils and beets, fruits like the berries and cherries (full of antioxidants) and nuts like walnuts, along with eggs and some fish such as sardines and salmon are some of the best foods for brain. Tea, especially green tea, and coffee are OK too. Make sure you are well hydrated all the time. And reduce alcohol intake to a minimum.
Get enough sleep: Impaired sleep contributes to cognitive decline and increases your risk of Alzheimer's. Avoid drinking large amounts of liquids and caffeine in the evening and establish a good sleep routine.
Treat physical illness: Follow doctor’s orders and keep physical illnesses like hypertension, diabetes, etc., under good control. Some drugs can cause memory loss and dementia, so discuss with your physician.
Stress reduction: Stress can harm your brain, so try to cope with stress by adopting some of the stress relievers we have discussed before. Having good social support is important.
Meditation and mindful awareness: “Meditation strengthens the brain’s memory and attention centers and fortify the neuronal circuits that control our emotions,” resulting in peace of mind and improvement of a sense of well being.
These are some of the steps you can take to preserve your brain vitality and reduce cognitive decline and hopefully prevent Alzheimer’s disease.