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Brain Health

A healthy older adult may experience some cognitive decline and mental slowing that does not interfere with daily activities. Dementia is severe cognitive impairment and is a clinical condition that is different from normal aging. Research has identified several things we can do in our everyday life to promote cognitive maintenance in normal aging, and reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia.

Before modifying your diet or exercise regimen, consult your primary care physician and follow all medications as prescribed.

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Heart Health

Research studies consistently show that adults who have good heart health experience less cognitive decline. Hypertension (high blood pressure) in mid-life—40’s to 60’s—increases risk for greater cognitive decline and dementia. Weekly aerobic exercise, healthy weight management and reducing stress promote good heart health and can reduce risk for cognitive decline. Keep regular appointments with your primary care physician to monitor blood pressure and follow daily prescriptions.

Exercise and Strength Training

Sitting less and doing any amount of moderate-to-vigorous intensity activity daily has health benefits. Aerobic exercise promotes heart health and can build resiliency against chronic illness. Additional exercises for stretching and muscle strength are important to safeguard against injuries and falls. For adults 65 years and older, who are generally fit and have no limiting health conditions, the CDC recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity and at least 2 days a week of muscle-strengthening activity. Any activity that raises your heartrate and makes your muscles work harder than usual count. Find an activity that is enjoyable and appropriate for your fitness level. Many activities can be done at home: for example, sitting aerobic exercises, walking, or active yard work.

Diet and Nutrition

Unintentional weight gain or weight loss of more than 10 pounds over a short period of time can indicate underlying health problems and increase the risk for cognitive decline. As we age, our metabolism and caloric need changes, and our absorption of key nutrients changes. Based on decades of research studies, older adults are suggested to eat nutrient-dense foods, minimizing salt and sodium-based additives. Older adults are at risk for nutrient deficiency and undernutrition; ask your doctor if they recommend a daily multi-vitamin supplement. Maintaining balanced nutrition supports immunity, decreases inflammation and promotes heart health.

Cognitive Engagement and Socialization

Staying active extends to our minds, too. Cognitive engagement describes any activity that is personally meaningful and intellectually stimulating. For example, watching a movie is passive but discussing the movie, studying the film techniques or practicing the acting methods are examples of cognitive engagement. Learning a new hobby or skill, practicing an instrument, knitting, reading books, or playing games are all activities that engage our minds. Older adults who participate in these kinds of activities report higher quality of life and well-being, lower stress, and there is some evidence for promoting cognitive maintenance. Many activities involve other people and socialization is further associated with better well-being in late life. There is no definitive evidence that these activities reverse cognitive decline or prevent dementia. Games and hobbies are fun and enrich our lives but be cautious of any program that promises to reverse brain aging.