Keeping Our Brains Sharp and Avoiding Dementia As We Age

Weighing only 3 pounds, our brain is the one part of us that changes the most throughout our life.

According to Medical News Today, by the time we are 6-years-old, our brain is about 90% of adult volume. We start to show some memory changes in our 20s that we don’t think about.1

Memory changes that occur as we are older – such as forgetting names and numbers, or struggling to learn something new – do not necessarily signal the onset of dementia. In fact, 20% of 70-year-olds perform cognitive tasks as well as people in their 20s.2

Dementia is not a part of normal aging. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 5 million U.S. adults over age 65 are living with dementia.3

Couple sits at piano while wife plays

What can we do to keep our brains sharp as we get older?

Living a healthy lifestyle through eating well, exercising, managing stress, and sleeping well all have been associated with slowing down memory loss. 

study reported in August 2017 from the German center for Neurodegenerative Diseases compared two small groups of seniors mostly in their late 60s, with half doing endurance training and the other half learning dance routines for 18 months.

Both groups showed improved areas of the brain often associated with Alzheimer’s and that often decline with age. The group learning new dance routines had even better improvements in the part of the brain associated with memory loss. 

Another study published in 2003 in the New England Journal of Medicine found that those who play a musical instrument are less likely to get dementia.

Challenging yourself mentally by learning new tasks and taking education courses is another way to keep your brain sharp. 

Are there things we can do to specifically reduce the risk of dementia?

A few things you can do to reduce the risk of dementia include:

  • Focus on staying healthy and exercising.
  • Manage chronic illness, especially diabetes, cardiovascular disease and high cholesterol.
  • Manage symptoms of depression. The part of the brain associated with dementia is also associated with depression.

Here are some other things you can do to reduce dementia risk:

  • Work on balance to help prevent falls and head injuries. 
  • If you smoke, quit immediately. 
  • If you don't get enough sleep, take action. Address your sleep apnea, if you suffer from it. 
  • Maintain involvement with other people. Become engaged in organizations and virtual communities to feel a connection with others. 
  • Challenge yourself mentally. Takes classes, especially in challenging or new subjects. It appears that learning new information helps with brain health. 
  • Listen to music. 

Lastly, review your medications with your physician to see if any of your medications can have an impact on how your brain functions.

 

1 Nichols, H. (Aug. 29, 2017). What happens to the brain as we age? Medical News Today. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319185.

2 Sherman, C., et al. (2017). Successful Aging & Your Brain. The Dana Foundation. Retrieved from https://dana.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Successful_Aging_Booklet_2017.pdf.

3 CDC. (April 5, 2019). What Is Dementia? Retrieved June 2020 from https://www.cdc.gov/aging/dementia/index.html.