Brain & Cognitive Health

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Brain & Cognitive Health

You’ve just been introduced to someone at a party and seconds later, as you try to introduce them to your friend, you realize you can’t for the life of you remember their name. You walk into the kitchen to find your glasses but as you enter the room you go blank and can’t remember why you are there. Maybe you find yourself constantly late, disorganized, forgetful, and overwhelmed by your responsibilities. Or maybe you feel that you can’t focus, concentrate, or even think straight and are tired of walking around in a fog and making jokes about “senior moments”. Most of us will develop some degree of decline in cognitive capacity as time progresses, but it does not affect all individuals equally; clear associations exist between the rate and severity of cognitive decline and a variety of factors, including oxidative stress and free radical damage, chronic low-level inflammation, declining hormone levels, endothelial dysfunction, excess body weight, suboptimal nutrition, lifestyle choices, social network, and other existing medical conditions. The good news is that many of these factors can be modified to a significant extent and proactive lifestyle changes, cognitive training and nutritional interventions have been shown to decrease and potentially reverse age-related cognitive decline.
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is an intermediate stage between the expected cognitive decline of normal aging and the more serious decline of dementia. It can involve problems with memory, language, thinking and judgment that are greater than normal age-related changes. If you have mild cognitive impairment, you may be aware that your memory or mental function has “slipped.” Your family and close friends also may notice a change. But generally these changes aren’t severe enough to interfere with your day-to-day life and usual activities. Mild cognitive impairment may increase your risk of later progressing to dementia, caused by Alzheimer’s disease or other neurological conditions. But some people with mild cognitive impairment never get worse, and a few eventually get better. Cognitive declines usually begin in our early 30s and are primarily observed in four areas:

(1) Attention or the ability to concentrate on one thing despite other things going on around you. As we get older we become more distractible.
(2) Working-memory or the ability to hold information in our mind for a brief period of time in order to perform some task (such as following driving instructions or figuring out how much to tip). As we get older we’re more easily confused as information is not always available when we need it.
(3) Long-term memory, especially recollective memory for details such as names, locations, and who told us something. As we get older we become more forgetful.
(4) Information-processing speed or how quickly we perceive, think, and act. As we get older our thoughts and actions get slower.

Signs and symptoms

Symptoms of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) are often vague and may include any or all of the following:

  • You forget things more often.
  • You forget important events like appointments or social engagements.
  • You lose your train of thought or the thread of conversations, books or movies.
  • You frequently ask the same question or repeat the same story over and over.
  • You experience difficulty in finding words.
  • You have attention deficit – difficulty in following or focusing on conversations.
  • You feel increasingly overwhelmed by making decisions, planning how to accomplish a task or interpreting instruction. You have increased anxiety.
  • You start to have trouble finding your way around familiar environments.
  • You become more irritable and aggressive or show increasingly poor judgement.
  • You experience depression and apathy.
  • Your family and friends notice these changes.

Factors to Consider

There is no one single cause of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), just as there’s no single outcome for the disorder. There are, however, a variety of factors that are regularly associated with cognitive aging and impairment. Symptoms of MCI may remain stable for years, progress to Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia, or improve over time.

Increasing age is the biggest risk factor for cognitive decline. We can’t stop this one but we can focus on the other modifiable risk factors, especially if there are family members who have experienced MCI or any type of dementia.

APOE e4 is a version of the alipoprotein E gene that increases the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease. It is important to understand that the presence of the gene does not mean that the disease will develop, just that there is an increased risk.

Hypertension has been shown to increase the effects of aging in the brain. The small capillaries that provide blood flow to the brain are particularly susceptible to damage caused by chronic elevated blood pressure.

Homocysteine is a derivative of a naturally occurring amino acid that, in high amounts, damages the cells that line the inside of our blood vessels and contributes to atherosclerosis and heart disease. Elevated homocysteine has been linked to reduced blood flow in the brain, reduced gray matter brain volume, and increased silent brain infarcts (subclinical stroke-like vessel blockages in the brain).

Diabetes and Insulin Resistance are increasingly being shown to be very problematic for brain health. A Mayo Clinic study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that people 70 and older with a high-carbohydrate diet face a risk of developing mild cognitive impairment 3.6 times higher than those who follow low-carb regimens. Interestingly, subjects with the diets highest in fat were 42% less likely to have cognitive impairment than the participants whose diets were lowest in fat. Other studies show that higher fasting insulin levels and greater insulin secretion may be related to overall cognitive decline in older men, even in the absence of diabetes.

Obesity, even in the absence of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, can increase the likelihood of impaired cognitive function or dementia. Estimates suggest that individuals who are obese are at a three times greater risk of developing AD and a five times greater risk of developing vascular dementia than normal-weight individuals. There is a clearly established inverse relationship between amount of body fat and overall brain volume – as bodyweight increases, brain volume drops and cognitive function declines.

Oxidative Stress is implicated in all cognitive decline from mild cognitive impairment through to Alzheimer’s disease. The brain consumes approximately 20 percent of the oxygen used by the entire body and it also contains high concentrations of phospholipids that are easily damaged.

Inflammation from many things such as smoking, disrupted sleep patterns, poor dietary habits and obesity compromises the integrity of the blood-brain barrier, the tight layer of cells that separates the brain from our regular systemic circulation. When healthy, this barrier prevents the infiltration of inflammatory molecules and allows only select nutrients into the brain and central nervous system. Chronic inflammation however, means that irritants enter the brain and stimulate the production of inflammatory molecules that then damage and destroy brain cells.

Stress and anxiety both lead to cognitive dysfunction. Even though severe anxiety is predictive of an earlier transition from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s, in men, even low-level anxiety is tied to cognitive impairment. A review of eight studies highlighted a strong association between post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and smaller brain size. The duration of the PTSD influences the extent to which the brain deteriorates.

Vitamin D deficiency is associated with a substantially increased risk of all-cause dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Vitamin D deficiency is present in an estimated 25-54% of all adults aged 60 and older but in a recent study, it was found in 74% of women with Alzheimer’s.

Gluten is a protein found in certain grains. It is well recognized that a genetic susceptibility to gluten is the trigger for celiac disease. One of the symptoms of celiac disease, beyond the pain, chronic diarrhea and constipation, is a high incidence of dementia. Traditionally dementia was seen a comorbidity; something that happens at the same time but independently of another condition. We now see a cause-and-effect relationship between celiac disease and dementia that starts with the activation of the intestinal immune system in those with the genetic susceptibility and ends with the triggering of brain inflammation.

Social integration and personal relationships are associated with a decreased risk of cognitive decline. It seems that social integration, as defined by marital status, volunteer activity and frequency of contact with children, parents, and neighbours, has a memory preserving effect on elderly adults.

Medical Diagnosis and Conventional Treatment

Mild degrees of cognitive impairment, particularly when self-reported by patients, pose a substantial challenge to the doctor. The physician may be dealing with a patient with a mild or transient condition, a drug-induced adverse effect, a depressive disorder or the early stages of a condition that will eventually lead to a dementia. To demonstrate that someone’s cognitive function is worse than would normally be expected for their age, neuropsychological testing is necessary so that their performance can be compared with that of an age-matched (and, ideally, education-matched) control group.

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) may result from virtually any disorder that causes brain dysfunction. Common causes include the following:

  • Alzheimer’s disease (AD)
  • Cerebrovascular disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Thyroid disease
  • HIV infection
  • Depression and other mood disorders
  • Adverse central nervous system reactions of drugs or other toxic substances
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Cerebral infection
  • Cobalamin (B12) deficiency
  • Chronic psychological stress
  • Cognitive adverse effects of sleep disorders

Before you go see the doctor, write down all of your symptoms and any questions you have. Your doctor will want to know details about what’s causing your concern about your memory or mental function. Make notes about some of the most important examples of forgetfulness or other lapses. Try to remember when you first started to suspect that something might be wrong. If you think your difficulties are getting worse, be ready to explain why. If possible, take along a family member or friend. Corroboration from a relative or trusted friend can play a key role in confirming that your memory difficulties are apparent to others. Having someone along can also help you retain all the information discussed during your appointment. Make sure you discuss with your doctor all your medications, including vitamins and supplements and any other medical conditions you have such as diabetes, heart disease and past strokes.

As part of your physical exam, your doctor may perform some basic tests that indicate how well your brain and nervous system are working. These tests can help detect neurological signs of Parkinson’s disease, strokes, tumors or other medical conditions that can impair your memory as well as your physical function. The neurological exam may test reflexes, eye movements and walking and balance. Your doctor may also order an MRI or CT scan to check for evidence of a brain tumor, stroke or bleeding.

In 2011, the US National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer’s Association jointly proposed new diagnostic criteria for research purposes. In 2012, the Canadian Consensus Conference on the Diagnosis and Treatment for Dementia (CCCDTD4) updated the previous diagnostic approach to Alzheimer’s disease (AD) based on these criteria. Additional guidelines for managing early-onset dementias and rapidly progressive dementias were also included. The full report can be found here. http://www.cfp.ca/content/60/5/433.full

Your doctor will decide whether MCI is the most likely cause of your symptoms based on the information you provide and results of various tests that can help clarify the diagnosis. There are no specific laboratory tests indicated for mild cognitive impairment (MCI) but most doctors will perform at least a basic workup to rule out treatable conditions that may cause dementia, such as thyroid disease and cobalamin (B12) deficiency.

A search for biologic markers of MCI that may help distinguish the many conditions that lead from MCI to full-blown dementia is ongoing. At present, there is no unanimous agreement, and potentially useful markers, such as functional and structural abnormalities found on imaging studies (shrinkage of the hippocampus and enlargement of the brain’s fluid filled spaces) and biochemical markers (apolipoprotein E epsilon 4 allele), remain controversial.

Currently, there is no proven drug therapy for mild cognitive impairment. Clinical studies are under way to shed more light on the disorder and find treatments that may improve symptoms or prevent or delay progression to dementia.

Nutritional Guidelines

Boost phytonutrients
Fruits and vegetables are known to have antioxidant properties and are associated with lower cardiovascular risk and a healthier brain. A study conducted in 2006 evaluated fruit and vegetable intake and looked at the food components vitamin E, vitamin C, carotenoids and flavonoids, all of which are brain-protective antioxidants. Results showed that consuming vegetables, particularly the dark green, leafy variety, had the strongest positive association to maintaining healthy cognitive function. Participants in the study who had a high fruit intake were more likely to have hypertension and diabetes and there was no positive effect on cognition.

Cut the sugar and processed grains
Foods with added sugar and/or processed grains (flour) are digested quickly, flooding the blood and brain with glucose. To clear this large volume of glucose, your pancreas pumps out insulin to shuttle the sugar from your blood into the cells where it is converted to a useable form of energy. When this pattern is repeated over time, cells become damaged and less responsive to the action of insulin. Larger amounts of glucose and AGEs (advanced glycation and products – these are formed when sugar molecules in the blood attach to protein molecules on the surface of cells causing them to lose function) remain in the blood and the body responds with an inflammatory reaction to try to heal the damaged tissues. Inflammation is a contributing factor to cognitive decline. Eating whole foods that contain more fibre like beans, nuts, seeds and vegetables and avoiding processed foods, sugar and especially high fructose corn syrup will help keep inflammation at bay.

Become a fat head
Coconut oil may offer profound benefits in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease. One of the primary fuels your brain uses is glucose, which is converted into energy. When your brain becomes insulin resistant as a result of sugar and processed grain consumption, atrophy can occur. However, ketone bodies can also feed your brain, perhaps better, and prevent brain shrinkage. Ketones are what your body produces when it converts fat (as opposed to glucose) into energy, and a primary source of ketone bodies are the medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) found in coconut oil, which is approximately 66% MCT by weight. In fact, ketones appear to be the preferred source of brain food in patients affected by diabetes or Alzheimer’s. Studies are preliminary and ongoing.

Herbal Remedies

Bacopa (Bacopa monnieri) is a plant whose use goes back to the beginnings of Ayurveda, the traditional medical system of India. For thousands of years Bacopa has been an important part of Ayurvedic medicine for supporting the function of the brain. More recently, clinical studies have shown support for these traditional uses, as well as providing explanations as to why. Studies show that Bacopa has been successful in helping with the retention of learned information, reducing anxiety and improving memory. Bacopa seems to protect the brain by enhancing its production of its own important antioxidants. These antioxidants are needed to quench what are called free radicals which are highly reactive byproducts of normal metabolism that can damage healthy cells, proteins and even DNA.

Pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ) is an essential type of B vitamin with strong antioxidant properties. In 2010, researchers at the University of California Davis showed that PQQ not only protects mitochondria from oxidative stress (the effect of free radicals), but it also promotes the spontaneous generation of new mitochondria within aging cells. Until recently, the only natural ways for people to increase the number of mitochondria in their bodies were through exhaustive physical exercise or long-term calorie restriction – both of which are difficult for most of us to do. Mitochondria are essentially the power plants in our cells that generate our energy. Organs like the heart and brain, which are so energy-intensive, are dense with these mitochondria and so are exposed to high levels of oxidative stress. Mitochondrial decay is a hallmark of aging. The antioxidant capabilities of PQQ make it a neuroprotective compound important for improving memory, concentration, attention, information identification, recall and processing ability.

Curcumin (Curcuma longa) is the primary active constituent of turmeric, the yellow-pigmented “curry spice” often used in Indian cuisine. It has a rich history of medicinal use in both Traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for a wide variety of conditions because of its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. Curcumin is capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier, which is one reason why it holds promise as a neuroprotective agent in a range of neurological disorders including Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s.

Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disease caused by a steady depletion of dopamine-producing nerve cells. Most of the current drug treatments for Parkinson’s disease, known as dopamine agonists, focus on replenishing dopamine. Curcumin shows a neuroprotective effect by preventing the death of these important dopamine-producing nerve cells.
Alzheimer’s disease degraded the nerve cells by a process that is believed to involve inflammation, oxidative stress and most notably, the formation of beta-amyloid plaques. Research has shown that curcumin may help inhibit the accumulation of the destructive beta amyloids in the brain, as well as break up existing plaques. People with Alzheimer’s tend to have a higher level of inflammation in their brains, and curcumin is a strong anti-inflammatory agent.

Therapeutic Supplementation

Acetyl-L-carnitine is a derivative of the amino acid (a building block for proteins) l-carnitine that is naturally produced in the body. It functions as an antioxidant and promotes the production of glutathione, a free radical scavenger. Acetyl-l-carnitine also helps the body produce energy by shuttling fatty acids into the mitochondrial furnaces for burning. Because of this involvement in cellular metabolism, it can help boost both physical and mental energy. As a dietary supplement, it is often used to help improve memory, and has been studied as a possible adjunct treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. Acetyl-L-carnitine may also help address symptoms of depression, and may be useful in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, stroke, and Peyronie’s disease. In addition, daily supplementation with acetyl-L-carnitine may have a protective effect on the central nervous system and benefit the heart. Clinical data indicates that it also may slow age-related mental decline that is not associated with Alzheimer’s.

Pterostilbene, in technical jargon, is a double-methylated version of resveratrol. Pronounced terro-STILL-bean, it has a higher bioavailability than resveratrol, is more easily transported into the cell and is more resistant to degradation and elimination. Found in blueberries, grapes, and in the bark of the Indian Kino Tree, pterostilbene has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine. Many of us like to drink red wine with the excuse that we are getting our heart-healthy resveratrol, but unfortunately we can’t get our brain-healthy pterostilbene this way despite its high concentration in the actual grape itself. Pterostilbene is not found in wine, likely because it is unstable in both light and air.

Pterostilbene produces beneficial effects on gene expression by simulating the conditions produced by caloric restriction. Far from being fixed units of hereditary information that determine physical characteristics like hair and eye color, we now know that you can change the messages your genes transmit to your body. This process, known as gene expression, occurs when stimuli or information from either within or outside the body cause certain genes to switch “on” or “off”. Calorie restriction turns on genes directly related to long term survival including genes that reduce the activity of certain cancer-promoting agents, and genes that confer neuroprotection. Improvement in memory performance has been shown to be a result of both calorie restriction and supplementation with pterostilbene.

Krill Oil, way back in 1989, the NATO Advanced Research Workshop on the effects of dietary omega-3 and omega-6 fats agreed that omega-3 fats had anti-inflammatory properties, lowered serum triglycerides and cholesterol, and decreased thrombosis and platelet aggregation. Omega-3 fats were therefore recommended as being beneficial in cardiovascular disease, hypertension and rheumatoid arthritis. Since then, the influence of omega-3 fat on mental health has been the subject of intense research. The evidence that animal-based (fish and krill) omega-3 fats can help reduce the symptoms of a variety of psychiatric conditions and degenerative brain disorders is very compelling. In two recent studies, taking adequate levels of omega-3 per day for 16-24 weeks resulted in significant improvements in memory, verbal fluency scores, and rate of learning in the elderly. However, not all omega-3 fats are created equal. Dietary fish and marine oil supplements such as krill oil are a direct source of 2 essential omega-3 fats, EPA and DHA. Plants, like flax on the other hand, contain another omega-3, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which can be converted into eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA) in the body. This conversion, however, is ineffective at the best of times and is further compromised by age and elevated insulin levels, something that affects about 80% of the population.

Approximately sixty percent of your brain is fat. DHA alone makes up about 15 to 20 percent of your brain’s cerebral cortex, as well as 30 to 60 percent of your retina, making it an essential nutrient for both brain and eye health. It’s also found in high levels in your neurons; the cells of your central nervous system, where it provides structural support. When your omega-3 intake is inadequate, your nerve cells become stiff as the missing omega-3 fats are substituted with cholesterol and omega-6 instead. Once your nerve cells become rigid, proper neurotransmission from cell to cell and within cells becomes compromised. Omega-3 fat deficiency is a contributing factor to many neurological and psychological problems, including degenerative disorders such as “age-related” memory loss and Alzheimer’s. The EPA found in animal-based omega-3 fats like krill oil also plays a very significant role in the signaling within nerve cells, and it has been suggested that normalizing communications within nerve cells may be an important factor for alleviating depressive symptoms. Interestingly, research suggests that the unsaturated fatty acid composition of normal brain tissue is age-specific, which could imply that the older you get, the greater your need for animal-based omega-3 fat to prevent mental decline and brain degeneration.

The metabolic effects of krill oil and fish oil are essentially similar, but krill oil is absorbed up to 10-15 times as well as fish oil, due to its molecular composition. An important added benefit is that krill oil naturally contains astaxanthin, a potent antioxidant to help protect against the oxidation of the DHA and EPA omega-3s.

Vitamin D is well known to be beneficial in bone health but, vitamin D receptors are also found throughout the brain, including in areas associated with memory (i.e., the hippocampus). Very recently, a multinational team of researchers studied the vitamin D blood levels of 1,658 people aged 65 and older who were mobile, free of dementia and without a history of cardiovascular disease or stroke. These people were tracked for six years using brain scans, cognitive tests, medical records and other diagnostic tools, to see how many developed Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. While the researchers expected to find a link between vitamin D levels and dementia, they were surprised by the strength of the correlation. They found that adults who had a moderate vitamin D deficiency had a 53 percent higher risk of some form of dementia, and the risk increased 125 percent in those adults with severe vitamin D deficiencies. The team discovered what appear to be clear threshold levels for brain health using standard medical measurements of concentration in the blood. The risk of dementia appears to rise for people with vitamin D blood levels below 25 nanomoles per liter, while vitamin D levels above 50 nanomoles appear to be good levels for brain health. They concluded that vitamin D deficiency is associated with a substantially increased risk of all-cause dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Melatonin is a hormone that is primarily secreted in the pineal gland, a pea-sized organ found in the centre of the brain. The pineal gland is filled with nerve cells that respond to light or darkness and acts as the body’s central clock, telling the brain and other organs when it’s time to be active and when it’s time to rest. That’s why melatonin is typically thought of as the “sleep hormone.” In addition to its hormonal actions, melatonin is one of the body’s most powerful intrinsic antioxidants with an additional action that sets it apart from other antioxidants: it readily crosses the blood-brain barrier, enters brain cells and accumulates in the central nervous system. As a result, melatonin exhibits strong neuroprotective effects, especially under the conditions of elevated oxidative stress or intensive neural inflammation seen in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

B Vitamins are a group of eight water-soluble vitamins important in our bodies for energy production. Three of these, specifically, folic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12, are increasingly being studied for their roles in preventing cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. These B vitamins lower homocysteine, which in turn slows the shrinkage of specific brain regions associated with both cognitive decline and the Alzheimer’s disease process. Recent studies have shown that nearly 1 in 2 older adults have low levels of B12. There are a number of reasons for this. B12 is only present in foods that come from animals so those eating vegetarian diet need to be thinking about supplementing. But even if you do eat animal foods, B12 requires a complex system of digestion in your body involving something called intrinsic factor to bind to it so it can be actively absorbed in the small intestine. Intrinsic factor is very reliant on strong stomach acid and as we age, stomach acid declines, especially if you are also taking any type of medication for heart burn or GERD.

Antioxidants help protect us from oxidative stress, the cellular process that takes place in our bodies all the time as a result of regular metabolism. The problem is that our modern world has an abundance of additional stressors form toxins in our food supply to medications, environmental chemicals, stress and even sunlight. These stressors can increase our levels of free radicals to such an extent that cell damage is the result. The brain is the most vulnerable organ to this oxidative damage that is associated with brain aging and cognitive decline. Antioxidants quench these free radicals and reverse the process. So what are antioxidants? They are the chemical compounds plants manufacture to protect themselves. Ever heard that the more intense the colour of the vegetable of fruit you are eating, the better it is for you? This is one reason why. Natural pigments responsible for the rich colour of fruits and vegetables protect them from too much UV from the sun, among other things. When we eat these nutrients, we garner some of this protection.

Zwell Lifestyle Recommendations

Exercise regularly. There is a significant amount of evidence to support improved cognitive functioning in older adults who exercise – defined as physical activity, aerobic exercise and walking. It has been suggested that exercise can trigger a change in the way the amyloid precursor protein is metabolized, slowing down the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s. In a population-based study carried out at the Mayo Clinic, any frequency of moderate-intensity exercise undertaken in either midlife or late life was associated with reduced cognitive impairment.

Sleep problems, over time, can contribute to cognitive impairment. A number of studies have shown that some of our more common sleep troubles – sleep deprivation, oversleeping, daytime tiredness, and sleep-disordered breathing – may play a significant role in cognitive decline as we age. Another recent study showed that higher levels of fragmented sleep was associated with a 40-50 percent increase in the odds of a clinically significant decline in executive function, which is similar to the effect of a 5-year increase in age. For optimal sleep, turn all screen off one hour before bed, get to bed by 11 pm and be sure to sleep in complete darkness.

Meditation is an effective method for relieving stress. With the connection between stress and cognitive dysfunction in mind, researchers studied the effects of an 8-week audio-guided meditation program on cerebral blood flow and cognition in subjects with memory problems. Tests revealed that meditation significantly increased cerebral blood flow in several major brain regions. Improvements in tests of verbal fluency and logical memory were attributed to meditation as well.

Eat whole foods. A diet rich in nutrients from unprocessed foods is foundational for health. Putting the right building blocks into the body in terms of good fats, slow carbohydrates and lean proteins, means reduced oxidative stress and inflammation, two factors closely associated with brain health. Processed foods deplete the body of important vitamins, minerals and enzymes that are needed to stop or slow the progression of cognitive decline. Please see the components of a healthy brain diet listed above under Nutritional Guidelines.

Drink water. Water is as essential a nutrient to the body as are proteins, fats and carbohydrates. Consuming enough water allows for a better flow of nutrients into the cells and facilitates better toxin removal. Being dehydrated forces the body to operate at sub-optimal levels of health.

Use it or lose it. Brain plasticity has been defined as a lifelong capacity for physical and functional brain change. We used to think that brain plasticity was limited to the developing brain, but in the last decade, research has shown that new neurons still grow during adulthood. The brain is capable of reorganization throughout the adult life span and can develop new short-range interconnection in response to experiences and stimuli. Studies have shown that participation in intellectually stimulating activities can slow cognitive decline and help maintain cognitive function. Mental stimulation is not limited to formal education and can include everyday activities such as reading books, newspapers, or magazines, and playing games such as cards, checkers, and crossword puzzles. Learn new things, try new activities, gain new experiences, and stay socially active. Above all, challenge yourself. If you’ve been solving cross-word puzzles for years, try Sudoku. Instead of watching TV, play video games. If you’re a pro at Bridge, try Hearts. Learn a new hobby or, better yet, a new language.

Connect. Age-related declines in memory, attention and other cognitive functions are well documented and constitute one of the greatest threats to a person’s ability to live independently. One study has found that having a limited social network is a risk factor for dementia in older persons. Risk factors include living alone or not having any close social ties. Maintaining lots of social connections and participating in social activities is recommended. Researchers suggest that social activities help prevent cognitive decline by stimulating the mind and challenging people to communicate.

Seek Help for Other Conditions. Cognitive decline in older adults is often associated with underlying medical conditions, such as low B12 levels, high blood pressure, diabetes, liver and kidney problems and atherosclerosis. Furthermore, many people have more than one of these conditions and may be on multiple medications which can also increase their risk for cognitive impairment. Cognitive decline may be slowed when these conditions are treated.

Disclaimer

The information appearing on this website is for information and education purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease or to replace medical advice from a qualified health care practitioner. Statements made have not been evaluated by Health Canada or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Be sure to check with a qualified health care practitioner for any contraindications before taking any supplements.

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