Dementia and Cognitive Decline in Seniors - Simple Things you can do to Keep Your Brain Healthy…

Dementia and Cognitive Decline in Seniors - Simple Things you can do to Keep Your Brain Healthy…

Did you know that dementia affects more that 55 million people worldwide with 10 million new cases being diagnosed each year?    In simple terms dementia is a decline in mental function that is usually irreversible.  It’s a syndrome, not an actual disease.  Dementia includes chronic memory loss, personality changes and impaired ability to reason.  Alzheimer’s is one of the diseases included in the broad category called dementia.  Dementia is not simply forgetfulness, which we can suffer from at any age and is marked by needing assistance with things you used to do like paying bills driving or doing taxes. Alzheimer’s is a specific brain disease that results in the inability to carry out even the smallest tasks overtime.  Scientists are still studying dementia and there is much that we still don’t know.  Recent medical studies have uncovered some simple things that you may find useful in your quest to retain your cognitive abilities into old age.  Some simple lifestyle changes may make the difference between remaining mentally healthy and declining into some level of dementia.  Here are some things to consider in your daily routine that can impact your chances of getting hit with dementia.

  1. Limiting or eliminating consumption of soda:  It may come as a surprise, but research has shown that people who consume soda have higher rates of dementia.  People who drank artificially sweetened beverages are three times more likely to develop dementia that those who drink them less than once a week.  This goes for regular sugar sweetened as well as diet drinks.  Those who consume these drinks show smaller overall brain volume, poor episodic memory and a shrunken hippocampus, all risk factors for dementia.
  2. Limiting but not eliminating Alcohol:  Research has shown that light to moderate drinkers a pint of beer or a medium glass of wine may be boosting their brain health.  Especially if you drink in conjunction with a social event as socialization and emotional connection is great for your brain health.  However, take caution, as alcohol in general is linked to cognitive decline and many other negative health consequences including increased risk for many types of cancer.  The key is moderation, if you don’t drink at all, we are not advocating that you start.  If you drink more than 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women, you are adding to your risk of getting dementia and increasing your risk for early death from cancer and more.
  3. Drinking tea:  Strange as this may seem, this often-overlooked beverage is great for brain health!  One study found that people who regularly drink tea are sixteen percent less likely to develop dementia.  Certain kinds of tea such as green tea and black tea are the most protective because of their high antioxidants and other health friendly compounds like catechins.  So next time you reach for that second cup of coffee, or a mid-day pick me up, consider boiling some water and brewing a cup of tea instead.  And remember, limit sugar and artificial sweeteners as those can have a debilitating effect on your brain health.
  4. Exercise:  Simple daily walking at a brisk pace at least 3 times per week can help stave off brain decline.  This is a great way to work socialization into your day as well if you reach out to a friend who likes to walk and start walking together.  Consider starting a walking group and share this healthful activity with more seniors or friends that live close by.  You can split into smaller groups by pace to ensure you are getting a walk that is vigorous enough for your fitness level.  Alternatively, consider walking on a treadmill in the comfort of your home or mall walking when the weather is not cooperating. 
  5. Brain Games:  There are so many games out there accessible to seniors that can help stimulate your brain and fight off dementia.  Crossword puzzles are a great one, you can find them in the newspaper or download an app for your phone so you can play anytime, anywhere.  Bingo a favorite of seniors can be very helpful and provide the much-needed social time for seniors to interact with others.  Even jigsaw puzzles can help your brain, don’t require leaving the house and can be done solo or with others for added benefit.  Chess, checkers sudoku and trivia are other great games to consider for boosting your brain health.  All of which can be done right in your home or turned into a social activity with friends or at a local community center.
  6. Socialization.  Finally, socialization and continuing to meet with friends, family and others in the community has been shown to keep your brain healthy.  We have mentioned many ways in this article that will help you get out to enjoy brain healthy activities with other people.  Socializing boosts feelings of wellbeing and decreases loneliness and depression which are risk factors for dementia.  In person connection is best but we have learned during Covid that connection over the internet such as a zoom call or facetime is almost as good. 

These are just some of the ways you can enhance your brain health as you age and many will also support your overall health and wellness.  As always, check with your doctor or healthcare provider before you begin exercising or make changes to your diet or consume alcohol as it may react negatively with medications.

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