In essence, cognitive health is a person's ability to think, learn, and remember clearly. Cognitive health is considered a crucial component of brain health. Senior cognitive issues often develop gradually but progress until it affects the patient's quality of life.
Cognitive decline or cognitive impairment can develop gradually or suddenly. It can also be permanent or temporary. It may or may not get worse over time, depending on the underlying cause or causes.
Welcome to Rose-Minded, a mental health blog and self-care brand supporting others through their journey. We love to encourage journaling, practicing self-care, and sharing your story to promote healing and recovery. Continue reading for guest writer Melissa's valuable information about older adult's cognitive health and how to maintain healthy aging.
Common Causes of Cognitive Impairment in Older Adults
Just like most problems in older adults, cognitive impairment is often multifactorial. In other words, difficulties with thinking, memory, and other brain processes can be attributed to several causes. The most prevalent causes of cognitive impairment in older adults include:
Estrogen and other hormone imbalances may affect cognitive function.
Medication side effects
Some medications interfere with the proper functioning of the brain. For instance, tranquilizers, sedatives, and anticholinergic medications are some of the common culprits.
This refers to abnormalities in blood chemistry. Examples include elevated levels of calcium, glucose, or blood sodium. Liver and kidney dysfunction might also cause specific types of metabolic imbalances. Sometimes, these metabolic imbalances can affect brain function.
Vitamins and nutrient deficiencies
Brain function can be affected when an individual has low levels of vitamin B12, B vitamins, and folate.
Delirium is common in hospitalized adults. It can also occur secondary to infection and other health problems in older people that are not hospitalized.
Brain damage due to injury
Head injuries are also sometimes associated with temporary or longer-lasting cognitive impairment. Vascular damage to neurons also means damage secondary to strokes or some kind of cerebral small vessel disease.
This cause is not as prevalent in older adults, but specific acute or chronic infections directly affect the brain cells. If the cognitive impairment is caused by an infection outside the brain, such as urinary tract infection or pneumonia, this would be considered delirium.
Damage to brain neurons caused by a neurodegenerative condition
Neurodegenerative conditions damage neurons and kill them slowly. This can result in mild cognitive impairment and eventually, dementia. Other common neurodegenerative conditions include Parkinson's disease, frontotemporal degeneration, Lewy-Body disease, and Alzheimer's disease.
Most psychiatric conditions can cause thinking, memory, or concentration problems. Mental illnesses can also cause paranoia or other forms of late-life psychosis.
A Well-Aged Mind: Ways to Maintain Cognitive Health
"Senior moments" like forgetting a name or an item can be mildly embarrassing and convenient but are often harmless. If anything, a certain level of forgetfulness is expected as one age.
However, severe cognition losses can diminish one's ability to care for themselves and affect their quality of life. Fortunately, there are several ways you can stay as sharp as possible. Preserve memory and mental acuity by observing the following:
Look After Your Physical Health
Below are some ways you can stay on top of your physical health:
Get routine health screenings
Manage chronic health problems like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and depression
Minimize risk for brain injuries due to falls and other accidents
Check with your healthcare provider about the medicines you are taking and their possible effects on your sleep, memory, and sleep function
If you smoke, quit smoking
Get enough sleep, at least 7 to 8 hours each night
Be Physically Active
Being active physically through household chores, regular exercise, and other activities has many benefits. For starters, it can help you:
Maintain and improve your strength
Improve your balance
Have more energy
Delay or prevent heart disease, diabetes, and other diseases
Improve your mood and minimize depression
Some studies also reveal routine physical activity can be very beneficial for the brain, too. One study indicated that exercise stimulated the brain's ability to retain old network connections and make new ones—something that's crucial for cognitive health.
Other research also revealed that exercise increases the brain structure's size, which helps enhance learning and memory and improve spatial memory. Aerobic exercises like brisk walking are believed to be more beneficial to cognitive health than non-aerobic toning and stretching exercises.
For older adults, at least 150 minutes of physical activity is recommended each week. Walking is an excellent activity to start. It is also a good idea to join programs that teach you how to prevent falls and move safely.
If you have not been active and would like to start a vigorous exercise program, checking with your healthcare provided is considered ideal.
See more: Best Exercises for Anxiety
Keep the Mind Active
Staying intellectually engaged can have amazing benefits for the brain as well. Individuals involved in meaningful activities such as doing volunteer work or engaging in hobbies report they feel healthier and happier.
For example, one study revealed that older adults who tried digital photography or quilting experienced memory improvements compared to those who perform less demanding cognitive activities.
Other activities that can keep the mind active include reading magazines and books, playing games, teaching a class, or learning a new hobby or skill.
Eat Healthy Foods
A healthy diet can minimize the risk of many chronic diseases, such as diabetes or heart disease. It can also help keep the brain healthy. A healthy diet consists of vegetables and fruits, lean meats, poultry, fish, and low-fat or nonfat dairy products.
It is also important to limit sugar, salt, and solid fats. It is also recommended to drink enough water and control portion sizes.
Some research is looking into the possibility of a healthy diet preserving cognitive function or reducing Alzheimer's risk. For instance, there's evidence that people who consume a "Mediterranean diet" have a minimal risk of developing mild cognitive impairment.
Stay Connected Through Social Activities
Connecting with other individuals through community programs or social activities will not only make you feel less isolated, but it can also keep your brain active and engaged. Participating in social activities also improves well-being and lowers the risk of developing other health problems.
According to the National Institutes of Health, specific actions are considered highly beneficial to healthy aging and maintaining cognitive health. Simultaneously, these are things older adults should be doing anyway to safeguard the overall health and well-being like eating a healthy diet, exercising, and engaging in intellectual and socially stimulating activities.
Comment below to let the author know if you have any questions, comments, or concerns after reading this article! Have you noticed any of these methods benefit you or someone you know? Would you like to recommend any other methods for maintaining cognitive health or healthy aging? Let us know by commenting your thoughts in the comments below, or you may contact Rose-Minded here, or contact the author by learning more about her just below.
About the Author
Melissa Andrews is the Content Marketing Strategist for Paradise Living Centers, an assisted living center for seniors with locations in Paradise Valley and Phoenix, Arizona. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking and going on hiking trips with her siblings and cousins.