As we age, our body and mind change, sometimes obviously, other times subtly. For some people, it is perceived as a regression that results in capacity losses. There are numerous changes in the brain that affect mental functions but it is different for everyone and does not necessarily apply to all cognitive functions. 

The main affections are : 

  1. Deterioration of motor and cognitive performance.
  2. Decreases in the ability to pay attention.
  3. Learning difficulties.

These impairments are no abnormalities. Our minds and bodies are doomed to change, but sometimes those changes can lead to cognitive disorders like dementia or Alzheimer's. 

There are multiple risk factors for dementia that are modifiable in order to reduce your risks of developing cognitive disorders. In the latest version of The Lancet, researchers attest that hypertension and obesity result in inflammation that impairs cognition. Diabetes, level of education, isolation, depression, hearing, smoking and physical inactivity are also well-established factors that can lead to dementia. 

Even though it is true that we have little control over the manifestation of cognitive disorders, there is still a way you can prevent them by changing your habits and your behaviour...


Couple walking hand in handExercise

Many studies have proven that people who exercise have better chances to have a good cognitive health than the ones who are inactive. Even though there are no randomized trials that prove that there is a link between physical activity and actual reductions in the incidence of dementia, many observational studies have found that there is a relationship between exercise and risks of dementia. 

  • Results of one meta-analysis that studied 33816 individuals without dementia for 1–12 years shows that exercise had a significant protective effect against cognitive decline and that the people that were the more active were more protected. 

  • Another meta-analysis that included 16 studies with 163797 participants without dementia found that the relative risk of dementia in the highest physical activity groups compared with the lowest was 0·72 and the relative of Alzheimer’s disease was 0·55.

There are also many benefits for people working out that do not have or do have dementia. Physical activity on a regular basis improves balance, function and mood and lowers falls and mortality. 

In order to do so, specialists recommend exercising 3 times a week. Not only it will be good for your cardiovascular and cerebrovascular health, but it will reduce your stress and increase your blood flow to the brain. If you have any medical condition, ask your doctor if you have any restrictions before starting any workout programs. Finally, choose an activity that you like and start at your level. 

Do Your Medical Follow-ups

Prevention is better than to cure. Go see your doctor for your health check-ups. Diabetes, hypertension and obesity are important risk factors for cognitive disorders so diagnosing and treating them as soon as possible matters.

Also, test your eyesight and your hearing to avoid any under stimulation because those senses have an impact on your cognitive health as well. 

Eat Healthily

To avoid obesity and vitamin or mineral deficiency, balance your diet and eat a variety of foods from each group. According to the Neuropsychologists Association of Quebec, fish, fruits, vegetables, whole grain cereals and good fats such as monounsaturated fats contribute to better brain functioning.

Elder sleeping

Sleep Well 

Tiredness, memory and attention are the main abilities affected when you do not reach the five sleep stages. For a better sleep, establish a sleep routine and avoid screens at least 60 minutes before bedtime. 

Avoid Stress

Stress makes you more vulnerable to cognitive disorders. It affects your brain, your memory and can cause anxiety. You can reduce it with simple relaxation techniques and calming activities. Deep breathing, tai chi, yoga or meditation are good examples.

Be Socially Active

Social contact prevents isolation, depression and anxiety. Inactivity not only results in cognitive decline and low mood but also increases the risk of hypertension and heart diseases. Therefore, by having an active social life, you have better protection against cognitive disorders and stimulate your brain. Register for reading clubs, go see your community organization or even volunteer. 

 

Man painting in natureKeep Playing and Having Fun

Navigating on the Web, gardening, knitting, doing puzzles, reading or playing a music are few examples of stimulating activities you can do. None is better than the other, the important thing to keep in mind is to find something you like and to keep doing it. 

 

 

Remind yourself, the cognitive system is always in transformation and ageing affects the structure and the chemicals elements of the brain. But, the brain is malleable and there are modifiable risk factors that can help you prevent any abnormal changes. 

By Patricia Cyr, Special Educator
References:
The Lancet, Dementia prevention, intervention, and care
Association québécoise des neuropsychologues