Mental decline is not a part of the ageing process. It may not be possible to completely prevent memory lapses, but you can still be quick and have a sharp mind even as you get older.
New evidence shows that the brain has tremendous capacity to repair itself. It doesn’t matter how old you are. The brain can still change its structure and stave off age-related decline. We now know the brain can sprout new connections and create another network when one network of neurons die off.
The memories of people in their 70s looking at a group of words to remember were able to, with practice, perform as well as those in their 20s.
We’ve heard the expression “Use it or Lose it“. This is because the brain is like a muscle – a dynamic, adaptable system. The brain’s neurons respond to mental stimulation and environmental factors. Just by stimulating your mind, you preserve your memory and restore the clarity it once had.
There are two main terms Neuroscientists use for the brain’s ability to adapt:
1) Neuroplasticity: this describes the brain’s ability to maintain its cells plastic, which gives it the capacity to rearrange old connects and lay down new ones. With flexible neurons we can memorise, master new skills, and adjust to unfamiliar environments.
2) Neurogenesis: is the brain’s ability to restore itself by generating new neurons. The dentate gyrus is inside the hippocampus and it supports neurogenesis.
A Longitudinal Study of Adult Intelligence in Seattle, Washington have found some promising results. Since 1956, Dr. K. Warner Schaie has examined the cognitive abilities of over 5,000 individuals every seven years. What he found was:
• Approximately 66% of those following a “mental educational education program“ showed a significant improvement (frequently returning to pre-decline cognitive performance levels).
• Also, they maintained the benefits well beyond the seven years.
The more you use your brain the lower your risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Stern, a clinical psychologist at Columbia University discovered that those who had less than an eighth-grade education had twice the risk of developing Alzheimer’s versus those having a formal education.
Also, if one worked at a mentally non-stimulating job, those with the lower educational levels, have a three times greater risk. The more synapses (connections) you develop between your brain cells (from using your brain more), the more resistant you are to getting the disease.
The two best tools to regenerate your brain and develop connections are doing both physical and mental exercise. Just by keeping your mind challenged assists in strengthening and creating neural networks (pathways).
And by actively maintaining your body physically you can increase blood flow to the brain, and thus create new neurons.
A good way to do this is with brain exercises like:
Crossword puzzles, Scrabble, Bridge, Chess or Sudoka.
Our mind benefits from an active life that may include lectures, learning the internet, or stimulating conversation.
Researchers have found that individuals who are the most integrated in their community had the slowest rate of cognitive decline. Independent of gender, race or age, it was found that volunteer activities, marital status, contact with parents, children and neighbours were factors in assessment of social integration. You can teach your grandchildren how to play cards, monopoly, a foreign language, etc.
A study in Seattle, Washington did a 6 year study that found that regular exercise (3 or more times/week) was associated with approximately 33% lower risk of developing dementia.
Recent research has linked healthy brains to a healthy heart. So walking, swimming, running, and cycling are good ways to get your heart rate up. Dr. Ian Cook said “If we don’t take care of our physical health, our brains and minds pay a price as well“.
Some research indicates that strength training like push-ups or deep knee bends (squats) stimulate a hormone that’s protective of your brain.
Relaxation is also vital for maintaining mental abilities and memory. If you’re not relaxed, and wound-up too tight all the time, you are killing your brain cells.
A leading cause of mental deterioration as we age is stress. When you’re feeling stressed and anxious, your body produces the hormone, cortisol. In large amounts, it is toxic to your brain cells and over time, too much of this stress-induced cortisol ruins your brain’s “biochemical integrity“ causing forgetfulness, confusion and haziness/fogginess that can come with ageing.
Most of our hormone levels fall as we age, but cortisol is an exception. It rises as you grow older. So to preserve a youthful mind, one must actively work at lowering cortisol in your body. A simple way is by just reducing your stress level. It’s a good idea to set aside some time every day to do things like:
Qiqong, meditation, mantras, a walk along the beach or in a rainforest, having a massage, doing some deep pranayama (yoga) breathing, doing some FasterEFT (check it out on U-tube with Robert Smith, the Founder), or some favourite thing which you enjoy.