How to protect against the cognitive decline associated with aging

Reporter: Amy Oshier Writer: Matthew Seaver

A common belief is that aging is a downhill slope accompanied by difficulty learning new skills, rigid thinking, and dementia.

It’s a real concern, as evidenced by the fact that 62% of people in the US fear the loss of mental capacity compared to 29% who fear physical disabilities. Especially in the age of COVID, which may have increased mental decline.

To combat that, doctors point to major research based on new imaging techniques that offer a more positive view.

“Dementia’s a general word. It describes a change in memory and thinking abilities that interfere with their everyday activities,” said James E. Galvin, MD, MPH, a professor of neurology & psychiatry at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

Scientific research suggests that there are steps linked to cognitive health. Making these part of your routine could help you function better.

The first step is eating for your brain. There is growing evidence that specific diets, including the Mediterranean diet, may promote brain health. These healthy, balanced options include whole foods such as fish, nuts, and vegetables rich in vitamins, nutrients, and omega-3 fatty acids. The second step is getting enough sleep.

Impaired sleep contributes to cognitive decline and may increase your risk of Alzheimer’s. To protect your brain, establish a bedtime routine, maintain a regular sleep schedule, and treat any sleep-disordered breathing such as apnea.

One more step to protect your brain power is to be social. Loneliness and depression can impair cognitive health, causing memory loss and attention deficits. Maintain and build your social connections. And if you experience depression, get support.

“If you could live your whole life well, it’s much more important than living your life long,” said Galvin.

Other ways to protect your brain health are exercising, alleviating stress, continuing to learn, and managing chronic illnesses like arthritis.

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