As it turns out, neuroscientists have found more than a few factors that affect senior brain health — and many of them are completely within our control. While most people’s memories will fade as they age, lifestyle adjustments can make a tremendous difference in overall cognitive ability and quality of life. To learn more about keeping your mind sharp, consider these 10 unexpected factors that affect senior brain health.
Stress can be a killer, even as we enter our golden years. Research has shown time and again that higher levels of stress are correlated with lower levels of cognitive ability in seniors. In fact, constant negative thoughts may even activate genes that cause our brains to age more quickly. Ultimately, if you want to keep your mind sharp and memory clear, you’ll need to reduce your stressors and manage fatigue with relaxation, socialization and a variety of interesting pursuits.
Your nutrition has a profound effect on your cognitive abilities. Your brain is an organ, after all, and it needs a steady supply of the same nutrients that keep your muscles, joints and other tissues healthy. Healthy habits are more important than any specific diet, but in general, you’ll want plenty of lean proteins, fresh produce and Omega-3 fats.
A recent study revealed that seniors with anemia have a 40 to 60 percent higher risk of developing dementia. Anemia, often caused by iron deficiencies, deprives the brain of oxygen and can potentially cause the damage or death of neurons. This effect compounds over time, so it’s best to get your iron levels checked as early as possible.
4. Dental Health
A bacteria associated with periodontal disease has also been implicated as a contributor to dementia. According to some researchers, this bacteria triggers an immune response that disrupts brain activity and even kills neurons. Similarly, gum inflammation may contribute to inflammation and neurodegeneration in the brain. That’s not to say an extra teeth brushing per day will prevent Alzheimer’s, but consistently poor dental health could be a contributing factor.
We take in new information while we’re awake, but a great deal of processing and long-term storage happens when we sleep. This is why pulling an all-nighter to study for a test rarely works — and why seniors with poor sleep face faster cognitive decline. Fortunately, a good night’s sleep and a midday nap can significantly boost brainpower.
The germs that make you sick may also put your brain at risk. In fact, people with greater exposure to germs tend to score lower on IQ tests, and there is a strong correlation between hospitalization due to infection and cognitive impairment. Even if you’ve had a healthy immune system all your life, you can protect your brain by being wary of germs.
Believe it or not, clutter may actually hurt your brain. Messes cause stress, after all, and eliminating visual clutter actually helps people who suffer from mild cognitive impairment. Even if you’re not a neat freak, keeping your living space simple and clean will help to keep your mind sharp.
8. Activity Level
A lack of exercise affects more than just your waistline. A sedentary lifestyle has been associated with more than a twofold increase in the risk of dementia, while just an hour of light physical activity per day can help you keep both mind and body healthy.
9. Social Activity
Isolation is a common problem among seniors, and it can spell disaster for your memory and problem-solving skills. Fortunately, spending time with family and making new friends can help you retain your cognitive abilities, and socialization provides ample opportunity for exercise, relaxation and other brain-healthy habits.
Ultimately, a growing, learning brain is a healthy brain. Doing the same things for months and years on end leads to stagnation, while practicing new hobbies, meeting new people and seeing new places will keep your mind clear — all the while allowing you to have fun. Now that you’re in retirement, there’s no reason not to spend time learning new things and doing what you enjoy.
For more ways you can keep your brain healthy and active, download our Vitality Guide and get on track to living your best life yet.