Every brain changes over time, and mental function is no exception. Mental deterioration is typical, and one of the most dreaded consequences of growing older is cognitive impairment.
However, cognitive impairment is not unavoidable.
While some brain functions naturally decline as a result of age-related neurobiological changes, others may remain intact or even improve with age.
There are things you can do to help your brain stay sharp and improve function, such as exercising regularly and challenging yourself mentally.
Here’s how to protect the different parts of your memory:
Strategies that help keep your short-term memory sharp include:
- Keep your mind active. Mental stimulation, both in work and leisure activities, can help prevent short-term memory loss.
- Vary the tasks you do each day to avoid boredom with a routine. Take up an old hobby or learn something new so that you keep doing different things in your spare time.
- Engage more in social interaction. We can all feel a bit lonely from time to time, but being around others stimulates your mind and keeps it active.
It is believed that long-term memories are stored in the brain as connections between neurons called synapses.
These synaptic connections become stronger when we study or learn new things and weaker with age as the supply of new neurotransmitter vesicles becomes depleted.
To decrease memory loss as you age, it is important to:
- Engage in regular exercise, which keeps your heart healthy and encourages fresh blood flow to your brain.
- Participate in cognitive training exercises that stimulate certain areas of your brain. Try crossword puzzles or do something different every day, like classical music or learning a new language.
- Eat foods that are nutritious and good for your brain, including fruits, nuts, vegetables, fish low in mercury (tuna), garlic, poultry without the skin, whole grains and olive oil.
- Consume blueberries or other antioxidant-rich foods. This is thought to support the synaptic connections between neurons and keep them healthy.
- Ensure you get enough vitamin B12, which encourages production of red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body, including the brain.
Mental agility and speed
Studies show that staying mentally active can slow down cognitive decline as we age. There are a number of activities that are thought to improve mental agility over time.
- Playing games can help keep your mind active, especially if they are complex and require strategy, analysis or memorization. Games like Scrabble or Sudoku are good choices.
- Doing crossword puzzles is beneficial for many people in terms of slowing cognitive decline. Completing one crossword puzzle per week is thought to be enough, but doing more may provide further benefits.
- Learn something new or take up a hobby you haven’t done in years. This will help keep your brain challenged so that it doesn’t stagnate and allow cognitive impairment to set in.
- Engage in social interaction by joining clubs or meet-up groups that interest you. This will keep your brain active and healthy as well as reduce feelings of loneliness.
- Get your heart pumping by walking, jogging or cycling to oxygenate the blood and keep it fresh and flowing to all parts of your body, including your brain. Aerobic exercise is particularly helpful for improving concentration and attention span, because it boosts blood flow to the brain.
- Learn a musical instrument or learn a foreign language. Both activities are thought to stimulate your mind and help you become more mentally agile.
- Challenge your brain with crossword puzzles, board games, card games or mental calculations.
- Maintain a healthy weight because obesity is associated with memory loss and cognitive decline. You can do this by eating healthily and exercising regularly.
- Try not to become stressed. A study carried out at the University of California showed that mice which were stressed had more age-related neurons in their brains than those that weren’t.
- Get rid of brain toxins by avoiding excess alcohol, cigarettes and drugs, all of which contribute to cognitive decline as you age.
- Support synaptic connections by eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish and flaxseed oil.
- Make sure you stay hydrated throughout the day to nourish your brain cells. Thirst is often mistaken for hunger, so drink a glass of water if you want a snack.
- Ensure you get enough sleep because it is thought that the brain “cleans” itself while we are asleep, getting rid of toxins.
Why is it important to keep your brain young?
Keeping your brain young is crucial for maintaining a high quality of life as you age. A healthy, active brain helps you to think and remember more clearly and allows you to focus on new things and stay creative.
It also encourages positive emotions like love and empathy, which make life worth living.
Early-onset dementia is a serious condition that can severely reduce your ability to function independently. As the disease progresses, it also reduces your quality of life and can put great strain on you and those who care for you.
Some people begin to experience memory loss as they age because brain cells become less efficient at communicating with each other.
This does not mean that you will completely lose your memory, but it can make daily tasks difficult. Memory loss is a symptom of other conditions such as Alzheimer’s Disease, stroke and severe depression.
The brain also has negative effects on your creative abilities because it takes over functions that you’d normally rely on the right hemisphere for.
This can cause a reduction in your artistic abilities, especially as you get older.
A healthy brain allows you to concentrate on complex tasks and block out distractions. If your cognitive functions begin to decline, it can become difficult to read a book or follow a conversation.
This has knock-on effects for social interaction because it becomes more challenging for people to follow and understand conversations.
A healthy brain is more likely to produce feelings of happiness and positivity, which in turn encourages you to lead a fulfilling life with good relationships.
This creates a positive feedback loop that boosts your motivation and energy levels, both of which contribute to making your dreams a reality.
The connection between your brain and body is stronger than you may think.
The brain has a huge impact on physical health because it regulates the hormones that control blood glucose levels, appetite, sleep patterns and libido.
Poor mental health typically leads to poor physical health which leads to disease.
Protecting your brain from aging is not only crucial to maintaining a high quality of life, but also has tremendous health benefits.
A healthy body leads to a healthy mind, so anything you can do to improve the function of your brain will benefit other areas of your life as well.
If you’re unsure about how to keep your brain young, there are plenty of options available. For example, you can try some simple mental exercises which help to keep the brain fit and strong without too much effort on your part.
Whatever you choose to do, it is important that you make an active choice to look after your brain so that you don’t become a statistic!