Experiencing some type of cognitive decline is, to some extent, a normal part of the aging process. If cognitive decline progresses into impairment and even dementia, however, the result is obviously life changing.
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is the stage between the normal cognitive decline to be expected with aging and dementia. This type of cognitive impairment increases the risk of progression to dementia.
In 2002, the Department of Health and Human Services estimated that 5.4 million Americans over the age of 71 suffered from cognitive impairment without dementia. That number has grown significantly due to what some have dubbed “the Silver Tsunami,” a moniker for the aging baby boom generation. At present, an estimated 10,000 people each day turn 65 and will until 2029.
If you’re wondering if you are showing signs of cognitive decline there are two important things to know. Firstly, you are not alone. As the statistics show, a large number of Americans are entering the age range in which cognitive decline, impairment and neurodegenerative diseases are a real concern. But the second, and equally important thing to know, is that there are things you can do to combat cognitive impairment, slow decline and maintain mental acuity far into your elderly years.
Signs of cognitive decline are not always easy to distinguish from the normal decline associated with aging. It’s important to understand the difference between two types of MCI, most commonly associated with symptoms such as forgetting the details of a conversation, not remembering appointments or social engagements and losing your train of thought.
The second type is referred to as nonamnestic MCI, where subjects struggle with executive functions such as planning, decision making and multi-tasking. This can also create problems when it comes to expressing one’s self effectively through language and impair the person’s ability to wayfind, or in other words, understanding spatial relationships and knowing how to get around.
What to Do If You Experience This?
If you begin to experience signs of cognitive decline, the first thing you’ll want to do is get an assessment from your physician. By administering a cognitive test that will examine areas of cognition such as memory, executive function, visual ability, language and attention, your doctor can determine whether or not you will need to see a specialist such as a geriatric psychiatrist or neurologist.
The specialist will look for deeper cognitive issues as well as medicinal problems, such as medications that may be contributing to symptoms.
At that point, the best immediate action you can take is to alter your lifestyle toward healthier habits. A good diet centered around plant-based foods such as fruits, green leafy vegetables, beans, nuts, whole grains and olive oil while eliminating meat, dairy and foods high in saturated fat will go a long way.
Additionally, exercise plays an important role in preventing decline as it boosts heart and brain health. Just thirty minutes of moderate exercise five days a week can make a big difference in how you feel and how cognitive health is maintained.
There are a number of other ideas out there. Some studies show that low level alcohol consumption can help slow cognitive decline. Another, presented to the Society of Neuroscience even suggests that browsing the internet can lead to changes in brain activity and help keep users connected to friends and family while learning new things.
All of this is good for the brain and can help you maintain cognition as you age. But at the end of the day, much of it is up to you to take action and alter behaviors to support healthy aging.