According to a CNN report, life expectancy will exceed 85 years in many countries by 2030. Interestingly, too, age-related cognitive decline may even begin by age 45, with early-onset symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease starting to appear in between ages 40 and 50. With such a unique paradox between life expectancy and cognitive decline, how can brain health remain sharp and youthful for its projected years to come?
What Is Cognitive Decline?
Age-related cognitive decline is commonly used interchangeably with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), as they both describe the deterioration in cognition that causes changes in memory, thinking, problem-solving, and judgment. While such deviations are part of normal aging, MCI is the intermediate stage between what is expected as years pass and a more serious decline of dementia. During MCI, cognitive decline may cause individuals’ minds to slip, including forgetting things more often, becoming overwhelmed with tasks, or trouble accomplishing familiar tasks. Though age-related cognitive decline does not tend to significantly disrupt average day-to-day activities, it increases the risk of progressing to dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or other neurological conditions later down the road.
Cognitive Decline Causes and Risk Factors
According to Mayo Clinic, there is no known single cause of MCI at this time, though evidence has identified changes in brain chemicals and the appearance of clumped proteins. Small strokes or a reduced blood flow throughout the brain have also been seen in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease.
Risk factors for cognitive decline include:
- Advancing age
- Having APOE-e4, a gene linked to Alzheimer’s disease
- Health conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure and cholesterol
- Being sedentary
Reducing, Preventing, and Treating Cognitive Decline
Though aging is inevitable, there are preventative measures to lessen the severity of cognitive decline. Though the sooner such measures are put into place the better, individuals may benefit from:
Regular fruit and vegetable intake has been associated to a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, along with other sources rich in antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and B group vitamins such as folate, B6, and B12. Both tea and coffee may support brain function, mostly by protecting the brain against oxidative damage and stress.
Being active helps stimulate blood flow to the brain, which may lessen the risk of cognitive decline. Additionally, resistance training has shown to be highly beneficial in improving both short and long-term memory.
Do not just exercise your body, train your brain, too! Stimulating the brain in reasoning, speed, and memory, along with continuing the process of learning, has shown to improve cognitive function both short and long-term. Reading, piecing together puzzles, and playing memory games are just a few ways to train the brain.
Managing Health Conditions
Managing health conditions can lessen the risk of cognitive decline, including the control of blood pressure, cholesterol, and sugars; weight loss and maintenance, and smoke cessation.
At this point in time, there is some evidence the use of statins can decrease the incidence of dementia. Additional data suggests lithium can protect against dementia in bipolar patients while donepezil and vitamin E may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
Ultimately, there is no denying the cohesion of lifestyle choices can influence cognition. The Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability, also known as the FINGER study, helps conclude the importance of embracing a healthy lifestyle, as participants aged 60 to 77 years who received engaging nutritional counseling, exercise instruction, and cognitive training demonstrated improvements in cognition compared to others who only received general health advice. Not only does this pose the encouragement of embracing a healthy lifestyle, but to participate and appreciate just how healthy choices shapes physical and mental health. Seeking out guidance from a healthcare professional is also advised, as they can offer safe recommendations regarding exercise and medications, along with answering any other questions or concerns you may have regarding yourself or a loved one.