As we age we know there is an increased risk of dementia and other degenerative brain conditions. Dementia is a term used to talk about cognitive decline that interferes with normal daily life. Cognitive decline is a natural part of the ageing process for many people and is categorised by pathological changes to the brain. These changes can interfere with memory, reasoning and verbal function but do not necessarily prevent a person from being able to function in everyday life. Different people experience these changes in varying degrees.
What can you do to protect your brain from cognitive decline?
The answer lies with your cognitive reserve. Cognitive reserve is a phrase used to define a person’s ability to maintain normal brain function, even while living with altered brain pathology. Research shows that cognitive reserve is heavily influenced by lifestyle, health and life experiences. People who have greater resilience to cognitive decline are generally educated, have high levels of social interaction and who work in cognitively demanding occupations.
There has been considerable academic attention give to cognitive reserve over the last 15 years. It has identified four interventions that may assist in strengthening cognitive reserve:
- cognitive training
- increased physical activity
- increased social engagement
- blood pressure management
The brain is a complex mechanism of richly woven networks that can be built and strengthened through certain activity. In other words, it is within your power to strengthen your cognitive reserve and therefore ward off brain degenerative diseases, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Activities aimed at enhancing memory, reasoning, problem solving and speed of cognitive processing are great ways to train your brain. Examples of these are learning a new language and completing crosswords.
Increased physical activity
It is well known that exercise offers many health benefits and some of these are related to brain health. Regular physical activity is known to improve cognitive function and reduce the risk of age-related neurological disorders, including Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately, there isn’t much conclusive evidence to suggest how often or how much exercise is enough when it comes to brain health.
Increased social engagement
Research shows that being socially active is a great way to protect the brain against cognitive decline. This is because the thinking, feeling, sensing, reasoning and intuition involved in social engagement is mentally stimulating and works to strengthen connections in the brain, which, in turn, helps to build cognitive reserve.
Blood pressure management
There is some research that suggests blood pressure management, particularly for people with hypertension during the midlife period (35 to 65 years) may help to prevent or delay dementia. Keeping on top of your blood pressure can be as simple as having regular check-ups with your GP, maintaining a healthy diet and exercising enough. For some people, blood pressure medicine may be required and this can be advised by your doctor.
Read more at theconversation.com