In our last blog, we explored the characteristics of cognitive decline as part of the normal aging process. We also examined mild cognitive impairment and dementia, which are considered abnormal developments. Both require monitoring of a physician and have a better prognosis when detected early.
As loved ones grow older, there are steps to take to help the brain age in a healthier manner and decrease the risk of developing dementia.
- Stay social. Your loved ones should regularly engage in social activities with family, friends and community; this has been proven to delay symptoms of cognitive decline and improve the prognosis of those already experiencing symptoms. It isn’t surprising that this same advice is also relevant to individuals with depression and anxiety, as well as some physical conditions. While some conditions such as hearing loss, memory loss and pain can make it more challenging to continue social activities, it is important to do so.
- Remain physically active. Improvement of cardiovascular health can help with a number of conditions, including cognitive decline. Exercise also reduces stress, which has been shown to worsen brain function both in the short and long term.
- Exercise your brain. The brain needs exercise too. Make sure elderly loved ones engage in challenging cognitive tasks which can protect against mental decline and reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Playing bridge, reading, attending adult education courses, playing a musical instrument or any activity that engages the brain will be helpful.
- Maintain good health habits. A healthy diet and avoiding harmful activities, such as smoking and excessive drinking, can also protect the brain. A diet rich in antioxidants has been found to protect the brain. It is also wise to maintain visits with your physician. As signs of cognitive decline begin to appear, a doctor can help determine whether they could be related to another illness or condition, medication side effects, mood changes, sleep problems or even injuries.
By developing and/or continuing good habits and being aware of the signs of cognitive decline, you can help your loved one face the aging process with confidence and prepare them for the next step, should more severe problems arise. In our next blog, we will address helping your loved one face the unknown with dignity and obtaining help when necessary.