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10 Ways to Stay Mentally Sharp as You Age

Lisa Belluck  — May 3, 2019

To most seniors, dementia is a frightening concept, robbing you of your memories and independence.

The good news is a growing body of research indicates there are many ways you can reduce your risk of dementia to stay sharp as you age.

Here are 10 of the best ways to lower your risk of developing dementia…

1. Eat a Balanced Diet

It should come as no surprise that a healthy diet can do wonders for lowering your odds of getting dementia. Proper nutrition can even help ease behavioral symptoms of dementia and keep the body strong.

Mediterranean diets of Omega-3 rich foods such as fish, nuts, fresh vegetables, olive oil, and whole grains have been shown to help prevent dementia. More and more research is showing that docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in these healthy fats is responsible for combating dementia.

Supplemental vitamins for seniors are often a great way to go. Vitamins B3 and B6 are important for the functioning of the brain and nervous systems. As a strong immune-boosting nutrient, Vitamin D can assist in the slowing down of the onset of dementia. Vitamin E has also been found to be very helpful in preventing the onset of Alzheimer’s.

2. Get Regular Exercise

There is an abundance of evidence showing that regular, hearty exercise – or even mild exercise such as walking – can go a long way toward helping you stay sharp as you age.

Regular exercise is important at any age but especially for seniors. Studies have shown that cognitive function is improved substantially among seniors who get regular exercise.

Obviously, you should avoid sports like boxing or skateboarding, however, and focus on aerobic and low-impact exercise.

3. Stay Mentally Stimulated

The brain is a muscle, and like any other, it requires exercise to stay at its best. Keeping the brain challenged and stimulated will make it less vulnerable to developing the lesions that can bring on Alzheimer’s disease. It can also help to decelerate any deterioration in seniors who already have the disease.

There are many great ways to keep your mind stimulated. Learning something new like a second language or a musical instrument, for instance, or even simpler things such as reading, playing card games, or doing a crossword puzzle every day has been found to do wonders in the fight against cognitive decline.

4. Get Enough Sleep

A growing body of research indicates that poor quality sleep or too little sleep increases the levels of beta-amyloid – the protein that forms the plaques that damage brain cells and lead to Alzheimer’s.

Getting at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night is important for brain function and health as the brain gets rid of plaque deposits while you’re in the deepest stage of sleep. While getting enough rest can be hard, make it a priority.

If you have trouble sleeping at night or suffer from insomnia, talk to your doctor about what you can do to improve your sleep quality at night.

5. Try to Reduce Stress

No good has ever come from being stressed. It’s known to worsen or even trigger many health conditions and is often the primary cause of forgetfulness.

Anxiety has been linked by many studies with the development of Alzheimer’s. Findings have shown a 135% increase in the likelihood of developing dementia in those who had mild cognitive impairment and high levels of anxiety.

Simply enjoying yourself and laughing more, believe it or not, can aid your body in the battle against stress. Studies have found that laughter is great for the body. It increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, decreases stress hormones, triggers the release of endorphins and can momentarily ease the pain.

Many people find meditation to be a great way to keep stress levels at bay. It’s been known to reduce the hormone cortisol in the brain, which has been linked to the development of dementia and increase protective tissue.

6. Stay Social

Surround yourself with people you enjoy to help prevent dementia. People who maintain larger social networks in older age often have greater cognitive functions and a vastly reduced risk of cognitive decline.

Unfortunately, social isolation is common as we get older. Perhaps find a class where you can meet others who share your interests, or simply make time weekly for friends or family.

7. Don’t Smoke

Smoking affects the body in many ways and causes damage to more than just the lungs. The brain is very much negatively impacted by smoking.

The long-term consequences of heavy smoking have been found to have a detrimental impact on the risk of cognitive decline in old age.

A 2014 report into the effects of possible risk factors for cognitive decline and dementia found that smokers have a 45% higher risk of developing dementia than non-smokers.

8. Reduce Alcohol Intake

Drinking too much alcohol has been linked to increasing the risk of developing dementia.

If you regularly consume more than 14 drinks each week, you’re putting yourself at serious risk of alcohol-related brain damage.

9. Manage Your Diabetes

If you have type 2 diabetes, which affects 25% of seniors, make sure your condition is well-managed with a healthy diet, exercise, and medical care.

Avoid excess sugary, fatty foods, and refined carbs as they can lead to weight gain and increase the risk of developing diabetes. Alzheimer’s and diabetes have been closely linked so keep an eye out on the amount of sugar and saturated fats you’re consuming.

While the relationship between dementia and type 2 diabetes is complicated, diabetes can contribute to blocked blood flow to the brain which can cause vascular dementia. It also affects how your body responds to insulin and uses sugar.

10. Spot the Signs of Alzheimer’s

Detecting and recognizing the onset of Alzheimer’s is key to slowing down its development. If you can pick up on these signs as they first appear, there are many more treatment options available.

You might want to ask friends and family to notify you if they happen to observe you behaving differently. Or even consider investing in a top-rated medical alert system to make sure you can always stay in contact.

Early signs of Alzheimer’s can include:

  • Memory loss
  • Behavioral changes
  • Problems speaking
  • Regular disorientation
  • Lack of initiative or motivation
  • Difficulty performing tasks
  • Decreased judgment or control
  • Placing items in strange places