3 Ways to Support Healthy Brain Aging
How does my brain change as I grow older? What impact does lifestyle have on the way my brain works? Is it possible to help my brain age well?
As you continue to get older and know more loved ones who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, these are questions you might ask yourself often.
You are not alone. With 5.8 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s today, many people like you have a close friend, spouse, or parent suffering from the disease and are searching for answers on how to prevent a similar fate. [i]
It is true that Alzheimer’s can happen to anyone, and there is still a lot unknown about what causes the disease. However, there is power in understanding aging and that there are still actions you can take to improve brain health. Whether you are 40 or 75, it is never too late to support healthy brain aging through daily lifestyle changes.
Dr. Thomas Grabowski, MD and Dr. Charles Bernick, MD, MPH from the UW School of Medicine and Memory and Brain Wellness Center recently visited our senior retirement communities to share their expertise and perspectives on healthy brain aging.
Here is what we learned.
Signs of normal cognitive aging
First, it might be helpful to know that not all cognitive changes should raise immediate red flags as you age. In fact, some changes in brain function are expected.
These are often signs of normal cognitive aging:
- Slower thinking
- Gradual loss of attention span
- Occasional word-finding problems
- Concern about minor memory changes
Signs that cognitive aging is not normal include:
- Difficulty remembering new material
- Compromised communication
- Substantial changes to daily functioning
If you are unsure whether your own cognitive changes are normal or not, it is best to schedule an appointment with your doctor. Early diagnosis and intervention can make a substantial difference in how quickly Alzheimer’s disease progresses.
The brain and neuroplasticity
Some people might guess that the brain reaches its peak and slowly loses functionality over time. This is not the case, however.
The brain is a powerful, dynamic organ that can continue to generate new cells, make new connections between cells, and improve its ability to withstand age-related changes without developing clinical symptoms. This capacity for change, called neuroplasticity, does not go away as you age. In fact, you can proactively encourage your brain to continue adapting to help support brain health. Read on to learn lifestyle changes that could improve brain plasticity and overall cognitive health.
Lifestyle changes to improve brain health
You cannot change your genes, but making adjustments to your daily routine could help prevent diseases like Alzheimer’s or slow down symptoms of cognitive decline. Take these lifestyle changes into consideration as you work to stay healthy.
Thirty minutes of exercise for four days a week can help stimulate stem cells and increase protective chemicals in the brain. In fact, a study conducted at the University Of Miami Miller School Of Medicine using MRI scans showed that the brains of people who exercise moderately look 10 years younger than those who don’t![ii] To get the best results, aim for a maximum heart rate of 70 percent during workouts.
Exercising your mind by following structured, repeated cognitive tasks may enhance plasticity and build higher cognitive reserve. Whether it is completing math problems without a calculator or learning a foreign language, continuing to practice and develop a skill set could help you keep you mind sharp.
A lack of social interaction is linked to cognitive decline. Just like you carve out time to exercise or run errands, plan out time each week to connect with family, friends, and neighbors. Connection prevents isolation, which can then in turn help prevent poorer brain health.
While there is still much to be learned about preventing Alzheimer’s disease, there are strategies you can incorporate into your daily routine to help maintain brain health. Help your brain age well through exercise, cognitive training, and social engagement. One of the benefits of living in a retirement community is having access to a variety of activities that encourage social interaction, stimulate the mind, and help maintain physical fitness. If you or a loved one is getting older and considering make the move to a senior independent living community, give us a call at (206) 504-1976 or send us a message to learn more about your options.
[i] Alzheimer’s Association