As we age, we become more and more concerned about lapses in memory. The older we get, the more likely we are to experience decreased cognition, decreased memory, and increased confusion.
Adults over the age of 65 are more likely than the general population to experience:
- Depression—15 to 20% of the over-65 population
- Dementia including Alzheimer’s—14%
What’s worse is that people over 65 are less likely to be diagnosed and treated for mental health issues.
Every single mental attribute of aging can be alleviated or remedied by working to keep your mind sharp.
Factors that affect brain health include:
1. Physical wellness. Exercise increases oxygen-rich blood cells that nourish the brain, nerve cells and the connections between brain cells. To maximize your benefit, switch your exercises frequently.
2. Intellectual wellness. Studies have shown that people with higher education are less likely to develop dementia and other cognitive disorders. However, even if you don’t have a college degree, you can stimulate your mind by taking college classes (free for people over 65 at most campuses), playing brain training games, playing specific types of video games, and learning new skills and crafts.
3. Healthy diet. Poor nutrition has been cited as a factor in developing dementia, depression, anxiety and more. The Mediterranean diet is noted for reducing the chances of dementia. As we age, it’s important to keep the following advice in mind:
- Reduced caloric intake correlates with a lower risk of mental decline.
- Eat the right foods to stay fit.
- B vitamins lower homocysteine levels, a factor in high levels of LDL cholesterol. High homocysteine levels correlate with an increased risk of dementia.
- Vitamin D correlates with depression, although it’s still uncertain whether low levels are a symptom of depression or a cause. Nevertheless, make sure you get enough Vitamin D, especially during the winter, by exposing yourself to sunlight.
- DHA, present in Omega 3, is essential for brain health.
4. Head injury. Even minor head injuries, such as concussions, can lead to an increased risk of dementia and cognitive impairment.
5. Regular sleep. Sleep-deprived people score low on cognitive function tests.
6. Cigarette use. Surprisingly, nicotine may have short-term positive effects on brain function. However, the other ingredients of cigarettes do the opposite. Specific studies on cigarettes indicate cigarettes do more harm than good.
7. Alcohol abuse. Excessive alcohol use has been linked to dementia. On the other hand, moderate alcohol use is linked to a decreased risk of dementia.
8. Aspirin. Some studies suggest that the use of low-dose aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may reduce the risk of dementia from 10% to 55%.
9. Blood pressure. High blood pressure in midlife correlates with cognitive decline.
10. Blood sugar. Diabetes is another risk factor for dementia. However, if you can keep your blood sugar under control, it lessens your chances of developing it.
11. Socialization. Strong social ties lower your risk for depression, anxiety, and dementia.
12. Caffeine can reduce cognitive decline associated with aging by improving performance during complex tasks requiring sustained attention.
13. Mental health. Mental illness correlates with cognitive decline.
Recent research offers new ways to keep your brain healthy
Unusual ways to stimulate your brain include:
- Crying and chewing gum boost levels of oxygen to the brain.
- Empathy and acting stimulate imagination and mental flexibility by affecting the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for decision-making and working memory, as well as the frontopolar prefrontal cortex.
- Meditation techniques, such as visualization and deep breathing, ease stress, lead to deeper focus, lower blood pressure, increase oxygen flow, and slow your heartbeat.
- Asking questions and debating both force you to focus your mind and think quickly.
- Change your environment to stimulate your mind. You require new ways of thinking to find your way around, assess the environment, and do what you want. Vacationing in an area where a foreign language is spoken especially encourages your brain to work harder and in different ways.
When it comes to brain health, there’s a free app for that.
For Android: Positive Activity Jackpot, developed for service members returning from combat, uses augmented reality with an Android phone’s GPS to find nearby diversions for someone coping with depression.
For iOS: Happify trains your brain to be happier using quizzes, polls, and a gratitude journal.