Although there is no cure for cognitive decline, the following preventative measures that you can take to help you keep your wits about you.
As we age, our normal body functions start to slow down, and our brains are not spared from this. The brain is one of the body’s most advanced organs. It can take in and process information while it controls daily body functions and movements without actively thinking about them. Most important to many of us, the brain stores a lifetime of memories that no current computer or cloud storing software can match.
Therefore, to keep as many of these memories intact and maintain a higher quality of life as we age, having a healthy diet, engaging in regular exercise, getting adequate sleep, avoiding excess alcohol, and being social will help you prevent cognitive decline.
Eat a Healthy Diet
A healthy diet full of antioxidants will help your brain cells as they carry out billions of cellular processes daily. These include:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains, nuts, and seeds
- Essential fats like omega 3 and 6 fatty acids from fish and plant oils
- A moderate portion of lean meats.
These foods are beneficial for your cognitive ability and health, and they can lower the risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes. A diet rich in antioxidants can decrease the risk of developing mild cognitive impairment and slow the progression to dementia in people who have the condition.
Exercise has various benefits to your overall health, including preventing diabetes, lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease, helping maintain a healthy weight, and reducing stress. Exercise’s impact on your cognitive ability and your mental health is evident since it helps relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression and promotes better sleep. The overall benefits of exercise to your cognitive function include:
- Increased selective attention
- Improved planning and organizing
- Enhanced multitasking and coordination
- Better working memory
Remember, any exercise can improve all aspects of your health. The type of exercise does not have to be extraneous. It can be as simple as taking a walk around the block, doing some stretches, or participating in a yoga class or a workout class. Easing into an exercise routine will help prevent a myriad of sports injuries while you gradually improve your health and cognitive abilities.
Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Lack of adequate sleep can have a huge impact on your quality of life—sleep functions as the body’s healing method, resetting, memory consolidation, and learning.
A lack of sleep will lead to activation of your fight or flight response, increase stress hormones, lower your immune system function, and even put you at risk of obesity and diabetes. Research has shown that any sleep deprivation can have adverse changes to cognitive performance. It can impair your attention, short-term and long-term memory, and even your decision-making.
Aging influences your ability to cope with sleep deprivation. Younger individuals sometimes are more sleep deprived due to reasons like studying, career-building, or raising children. The effects of having one night of sleep deprivation can be reversed by sleeping 8 hours, but chronic sleep deprivation causes a “sleep debt” that makes it difficult to catch up on lost sleep. Therefore, establishing healthy sleep hygiene will help you get a resultful night’s sleep to preserve your cognitive function. These include:
- Having a steady sleep schedule
- Creating a room that promotes sleep
- Establishing a pre-bedtime routine
- Engaging in sleep-promoting habits during the day: exercising, reducing the amount of caffeine you consume and eating a healthy diet.
Moderate Your Alcohol Intake
Although some studies may have suggested that consuming an average of one alcoholic beverage per day was beneficial to brain health, recent research has shown that drinking excess alcohol does not help prevent cognitive decline. If you enjoy the occasional alcoholic beverage, make sure to limit your consumption to no more than one drink per day.
In a 2019 JAMA study on alcohol consumption and risk of dementia, older adults who consumed more than 14 drinks per week had a higher risk of developing dementia. Those who consumed alcohol within the recommended limits did not have any associated lower risk of developing dementia.
Drinking too much alcohol puts you at a higher risk of developing serious and persistent changes in the brain. These changes may result in either the direct effects of alcohol on the brain or other indirect causes that alcohol has on the body, like poor liver function or poor general health status. Excess alcohol consumption can cause decreased absorption of certain B vitamins like thiamine, vitamin B1, which is an essential nutrient required by all tissues, including the brain.
As humans, we have developed to be social creatures, and our social interactions have profound effects on our mental health and longevity. Social isolation, the lack of interaction with others, is considered the major contributor to depression and psychosocial stress, contributing to cognitive decline.
Research analyzing the correlation between loneliness and risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease (AD) showed that individuals with minimal social interactions had a higher risk of AD than those with robust social support. Evidence also suggests that humans' social connections may be as important as exercise and eating a healthy diet.
Strong social interactions can help protect your memory and cognitive function by promoting signals that have beneficial effects on cognitive function and neurogenesis. Neurogenesis is the formation of new neurons, which can occur in certain parts of our brains during our lifetime. Therefore, people with strong social support have been found to experience less cognitive decline than those who are alone.
Finally, if you have strong ties to people, family, and friends, you can lower your stress levels. Social engagement requires that you perform several important mental processes, including attention and memory, to bolster cognition.
Although there is no current treatment for cognitive decline, having a healthy diet, exercising, avoiding excess alcohol intake, getting quality sleep, and having social support may help protect you from cognitive decline and preserve a higher quality of life as you age.
- Alhola P, Polo-Kantola P. Sleep deprivation: Impact on cognitive performance. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2007;3(5):553-567.
- Baker LD, Frank LL, Foster-Schubert K, et al. Effects of aerobic exercise on mild cognitive impairment: a controlled trial. Arch Neurol. 2010;67(1):71-79. doi:10.1001/archneurol.2009.307
- Hsiao YH, Chang CH, Gean PW. Impact of social relationships on Alzheimer's memory impairment: mechanistic studies. J Biomed Sci. 2018;25(1):3. Published 2018 Jan 11. doi:10.1186/s12929-018-0404-x
- Koch M, Fitzpatrick AL, Rapp SR, et al. Alcohol Consumption and Risk of Dementia and Cognitive Decline Among Older Adults With or Without Mild Cognitive Impairment. JAMA Netw Open. 2019;2(9):e1910319. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.10319