Memory loss is one of the most feared consequences of aging. After all, it’s natural to want to learn and remember new things, make good decisions, interact well socially, and concentrate in our later years of life. If our interest and hope in maintaining cognition weren’t there, we wouldn’t be reminded constantly by the media about eating this-or-that to boost memory, nor would the sale of self-help books, meditation CDs, coloring activities, dietary supplements and who-knows-what latest trend be skyrocketing into the billions of dollars.
While all of us likely would say that we want to maintain optimal brain function for the duration, there will be some who don’t want to invest the time or effort needed. In fact, we might even be those people! For those of us who might be inclined to ignore the basics of brain housekeeping, especially for those facing caregiver stress, let’s review.
Like every other organ in the body, the brain requires respect. Stress, sleep deprivation, poor nutrition, a sedentary lifestyle, and dehydration (the brain is around 78% water) are some of its worst enemies, as are uncontrolled blood pressure and uncontrolled blood sugar. All of these are worthy of our serious and consistent monitoring and our diligent efforts to control.
What else do we know of that might help maintain brain health? Doctors at Harvard University Medical School encourage mental activity that is stimulating. According to these doctors, any such activity will do—taking courses, doing puzzles, solving math problems—anything that can challenge the brain and requires us to make associations. They also recommend a good exercise program. Not only does this appear to increase the number of tiny blood vessels bringing oxygen-rich blood to the region of the brain that is responsible for thought; it also improves a host of other things, from lowering blood pressure and fighting diabetes, to improving cholesterol levels and reducing mental stress.
What else is there to do? Well, for one thing, always protect your head (concussions greatly increase cognitive decline). Also, eating the right foods is important—that we’ve been told all along—but did you know that a reduced caloric intake has been linked to a lower risk for mental decline in both animals and humans? Or that building strong social ties has been associated with a longer lifespan?
While there are countless opinions, how-to’s and ideas “out there” about boosting brain power, the most intriguing are the easiest to do: they simply require shaking up the routine or changing simple habits. Something as easy as changing where you store kitchen utensils, alternating seats at the dinner table, or brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand can help.
We have an opportunity to make a difference for our brains, so…think about it!