Hearing the words, “senior moment” for the 100th time makes me want to yell, “Don’t go there!” While each brain ages differently, aging can actually bring wonderful new insights for our brain. Dan Blazer, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center says, “Wisdom and knowledge may increase with aging, even while memory and attention decline.” Personally, I will happily take wisdom and knowledge every time.
A new, authoritative report on “cognitive aging,” the changes in memory, thinking speed, decision-making, problem-solving and learning that most people notice as they age was recently released by an expert panel appointed by the non-profit Institute of Medicine. The report focuses on the sorts of changes that do not signal dementia but can nonetheless interfere with daily life. The best-studied ways to slow the decline, according to the report, are as follows:
• Exercise. Physical activity studies in middle-aged and older adults show that those who step up their exercise routines improve their scores on thinking tests. Still unclear: what kinds of exercise, in what doses, at what time of life, are best.
• Improve cardiovascular health. People with healthy hearts and blood vessels tend to maintain healthier brains and are at lower risk for strokes, a major cause of cognitive impairment. So control your blood pressure, cholesterol and weight, and don’t smoke.
• Watch out for medical conditions and medications that can impair thinking. Conditions from diabetes to sleep apnea and medications such as some sedating antihistamines, sleeping pills and antidepressants, have been linked with cognitive decline.
If you do try a brain-training computer program or game, the report says, you should know that the skills you hone on those programs might not transfer to real life activities. So even if you master a memory game, you still might forget your grocery list.
I love to remember that exercise is like Miracle-Gro for the brain! By training your body, you will be training your brain and boosting your brain power.