If you find that your memory is not what it used to be, names and facts on the tip of your tongue are no longer easily accessible, you might be heading towards age-related cognitive decline. It happens to all of us, especially after we hit 50, when we start to lose about 1% of our brain cells every year. This means that by the time we reach 70, we have lost about 20% of our brain matter. This is not something that can be reversed, but it can be slowed down. The loss of neurons firing at their optimum level can be age-related, but can also be exacerbated by lifestyle and environmental factors. There are several things we can do from middle age onwards that counteract the natural slowing down of memory and thinking processes. Here are some ways that this can be done:
It is probably no surprise to learn that exercise is a great way to slow down cognitive decline. It’s not just the usual spiel about exercise being good for your body and mind. It has actually been shown that consistent walkers add 2% to their brain matter every year. This includes elderly exercisers as well. So if you lose 1% of brain cells every year after 50, but add 2% of the same cells back, well that kind of maths is not worth ignoring!
You knew that sleep was going to be on this list, didn’t you? When Shakespeare spoke about the sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care, he didn’t know that centuries later science would actually confirm that sleep literally repairs our brain. The good places in our brains grow and the stressful places shrink as we get a good night’s sleep. Sleep also helps protect us again obesity and depression. So, overall, getting a sound eight hours per night is a good idea no matter what your age. If sleeping well is an issue, as it often is with advanced years, exercise, nutrition and meditation are great ways to counteract this. Which brings us to…
Meditation is an age-old technique that is only gaining popularity, and for good reason. A study of meditators shows that after just eight weeks of half an hour of meditation daily, the brain literally grew, especially in areas of memory, calmness and well-being.
A lot of people tell me that they can’t sit still enough to meditate or they can’t make their mind blank enough. I always reply, there’s a type of meditation for everyone. Guided mediation can help you focus your mind on the sound of the words, walking meditation can make you move at the same time as calming your mind. Breathing meditation like the yogic Pranayama is great for focusing on your breath as well as building lung capacity. A certain kind of meditation is even done during rush hour or in the subway, to focus on the sound of chaos around you. Mediation just means focus. That just comes from practice. Look into apps like Insight Timer to find the kind of meditation that best suits you.
Studying, learning and using your brain are great ways to keep mentally young. This can be something as simple as doing Sudoku and the crossword every morning. It can also mean playing chess, learning a new language, a new instrument or getting that degree in Art you never thought you could do. Anything that uses your brain and stimulates or challenges it is good for halting and reversing mental decline. My aunt who is in her 70s now has studied for a new certificate or diploma every year since she retired, whether it is learning the art of Japanese flower arranging or yin yoga or French, she has kept her mind active, not to mention made a lot of new friends younger than her who keep her youthful. The world is your oyster and the only thing holding you back is you. Isn’t this a great time to live in?!
Speaking of a great time to live in, science has given us tremendous information about the nutrients and supplements we need. It is also not surprising that cutting-edge discoveries are proving that centuries-old traditional medicine knows what it’s doing. Ayurveda and Chinese Traditional Medicine have used supplements that slow down, halt or even reverse mental ageing. And science has given us even more nutritional gold to imbibe, allowing us to live amazingly in our golden years. Below are a list of foods and supplements that can help cognitive decline, but make sure you talk to your doctor to prevent unwanted interactions with your other medicines.
- Switch from a Western diet to a Mediterranean or Asian diet. This means lots of fresh veggies, soy, healthful mushrooms and – yum – red wine! Resveratrol found in red wine is great for your heart and mind.
- Take adaptogens such as Ginkgo Biloba, Panax Ginseng, Ashwagandha, Rhodiola Rosea, Bacopa Monnieri, Lemon Balm and Gotu Kola. All these help your body and mind battle physical and emotional stress, which in turn helps your mental clarity.
- Take certain supplements that help with mental ability, such as Acetyl-L-Carnitine and Creatine, especially if you don’t get enough protein.
- Take anti-inflammatories like turmeric, fish/flaxseed oils, ginger, spirulina and alpha lipolic acid. Chronic inflammation causes more damage to the body and mind than almost anything else that is not disease related.
Well, there you go. That’s my self-curated list for how to slow down cognitive decline in middle and old age. As someone who is past middle-age myself and who takes care of an elderly mother who has dementia, the methods in this blog post are those that I swear by and make sure I follow. I wish I had known more about all this when my mother was in her 60s and going through my father’s bereavement as looking back I noticed a few things but didn’t perhaps pay enough attention or know about the signs dementia, to be alerted. I can see how making the move from a Mediterranean to Western diet that we did when my family moved from Italy to England may not have been the best thing for our health either. But we know more now, and we are doing our best to make sure that we all eat and do the best things for our health. Also, don’t forget the many benefits of red vino! I can assure you that we don’t!