People have long thought that with aging comes worsening memory and absentmindedness. Today, doctors do generally recognize that even middle-aged individuals tend to have more trouble remembering compared to when they were younger. The need for specialized care for dementia patients has been increasing steadily in the United States.
How Can Age-Related Memory Loss Be Prevented?
Modern research has shown that the brain is continually repairing itself throughout life. The term for this process is neuroplasticity, and it was not even known about just a few decades ago. Diabetes is strongly linked to memory problems, and many of the factors that reduce diabetes risk also help keep the brain sharp. Notably, sugar consumption has been found to impact risks of both problems even in healthy individuals.
Along with diet, exercise has been found by researchers to promote a healthy brain. Meanwhile, a variety of additional factors are known to affect how well the brain functions, including sleep habits and stress levels.
Aging Does Not Cause All Parts of the Brain to Deteriorate
Scientists have determined that not all cognitive functions are equally affected by aging. Some, such as spatial attention, which is handled by the right cerebral hemisphere of the brain, seem to be left intact during the aging process.
According to researcher Dr. Joanna Brooks, similar levels of performance can be seen in younger and older adults in tests of spatial attention. In her study, two groups of adults were tested: one between ages 18 and 38 and another between ages 55 and 95. Abilities to pay attention to spatial stimuli involving sight, touch and sound were found to be the same when the groups were compared.
At this point, no one knows why aging-related brain degeneration does not affect all parts of the brain to the same degree. As researchers investigate this issue, we may develop a better understanding of Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders. Of course, cutting-edge medical knowledge is not necessarily required to start taking good care of your brain. Certain lifestyle changes can make major differences in your memory as you grow older.
How Stress Affects Memory
Stress has significant effects on cognitive function. In one study performed on animals, high stress hormone levels were found to increase the rate of memory decline in older individuals.Cortisol has destructive effects on memory. Essentially, this primary stress hormone can cause memory processing and storage synapses to degrade. Short term memory is also known to be negatively affected by long-term stress exposure.
According to some studies, a link exists between high stress and earlier onset of Alzheimer’s disease. This is an especially troubling association considering that about one in eight people over age 65, totaling approximately 5.4 million Americans, suffer from this form of dementia.
Of course, it is not realistic to seek total removal of stress from our lives. At the same time, however, it is absolutely possible to use certain strategies to reduce the impact that stress can have on cognitive function.
Emotional Freedom Technique
Emotional Freedom Technique, or EFT, is one popular way to reduce levels of stress. Basically, EFT involves reprogramming your physical reactions to stress in your life. Doing so can potentially decrease your likelihood of suffering serious stress-related health problems.
Effects of Sleep Loss
Many people with high stress levels have poor or insufficient sleep. Similar to stress, lack of deep sleep can cause the brain to deteriorate. In fact, the brain can actually lose size and become more prone to Alzheimer’s disease after long-term sleep loss.
Sleep is important for brain function for several reasons. Firstly, the brain performs clean-up of harmful waste while asleep. Maintenance of normal brain metabolism is also dependent on getting enough sleep. With too little sleep, neuronal degeneration sets in.
Many people try to compensate for insufficient sleep on weekdays by sleeping in on weekends. However, research has shown that this is not adequate for brain health. A sleep schedule that allows for enough sleep every night is vital to enjoy cognitive wellness throughout life.
Research findings published in Neurology, a leading journal, illustrate the damage that long-term insomnia can have on the size of the brain. In contrast to people who get sufficient high-quality sleep, those with sleep deprivation experience brain shrinkage that is faster and more extensive. For people older than 60, this damage is especially marked.
Why Is Exercise Important for the Brain?
Brain health has repeatedly been tied to exercise by researchers. At the University of Minnesota, researchers found that cognitive function in middle-aged adults was better in those who had been more fit as adolescents and young adults.
Certain aspects of cognitive function particularly benefited from fitness in early adulthood: mental agility and reaction speed, both essential for tricky test questions, were better in those who had possessed early-life fitness. Cognitive decline has been linked to obesity. This is thought to be caused by higher levels of cytokines, which are inflammatory substances that can harm the brain.
The Research Proves It!
Remarkably, researchers have found that despite the link between sleep loss and brain shrinkage, larger amounts of exercise can mitigate the degradation. Brain growth has even been found to result from exercise. Researchers had adults ranging in age from 60 to 80 walk for 30 to 45 minutes three days a week for a year. At the end of the year, an average two-percent increase in hippocampus volume was found in participants. The hippocampus is a primary memory center of the brain. Needless to say, this effect highlights the value of keeping consistent exercise habits from one day to the next.
Cognitive Function Is Harmed by Sugar
A comprehensive review of brain health must mention the problems that a high-sugar diet can cause. According to the latest research, diet is strongly linked to risk of Alzheimer’s disease and type 2 diabetes in similar ways. Dr. Ron Rosedale, a leading expert, believes that certain brain disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, result from the brain continually running on sugar.
One might be shocked at initially learning that, despite conventional wisdom, glucose is not necessary for brain function. In fact, the brain works more efficiently when fed ketones, which the body will make naturally when fed fat in the absence of carbohydrates. People with type 2 diabetes have already been found to experience more brain shrinkage compared to their healthy counterparts. Today, plenty of research supports the idea that carbohydrate consumption can also hamper cognitive function in people who don’t have dementia or diabetes.
Researchers in one study examined over 140 seniors who were healthy and did not have diabetes or dementia. In those with higher blood glucose levels, there were multiple signs of brain deterioration: hippocampus reduction, memory decline and hippocampus structural abnormalities. A co-author of the study, Agnes Flöel, remarked that the study supported the idea that atrophy of the hippocampus may directly result from glucose.
Clearly, even individuals who do not have insulin resistance or diabetes may be placing their memory at risk by eating sugar. Furthermore, overwhelming the liver with fructose reduces its capacity for production of cholesterol, which is vital for a healthy brain. More and more evidence suggests that moderation of fructose intake is essential for avoiding Alzheimer’s.
Vegetables Reduce Risk of Cognitive Decline
Vegetables contain a variety of nutrients that might be valuable for prevention and even reversal of cognitive decline. Why is this so? Because vegetables are rich in antioxidants, they can help eliminate free radicals, which are known to damage the brain. In fact, oxidative stress is thought to be a primary factor in the health decline that often accompanies aging. Brain function may be especially prone to this damage.
Ideally, only whole, organic foods should be eaten to promote preservation of health. When foods have a wider range of cofactors and phytochemicals, they can actually protect the brain more effectively than even very high doses of isolated nutrients can. A convenient option for boosting vegetable intake is juicing, particularly for vegetables that are not enjoyed whole. You can maximize the nutrient density of the vegetables in your diet by checking my list of vegetable and fruit superfoods. Wilted vegetables should be avoided because their nutrient value is degraded. Leafy green vegetables are wise choices along with other brightly colored plant foods, such as those that are orange, red, yellow or purple. Eating a range of colors will help ensure that your phytonutrient intake is balanced.
Challenge Your Mind to Keep It Healthy!
Restful sleep, healthy eating, reduced stress and ample exercise are important, but you should also stimulate your brain regularly to keep it healthy. You can do this in a variety of ways, including by learning a new skill, such as a language or musical instrument. This will help your brain stay flexible and sharp throughout life.