Senior Moments: How to Counteract Age-Related Cognitive Decline
No matter our age, we’ve all had them. Many of us even good-naturedly rib each other about occasional lapses in memory or focus.
Next Saturday, July 22, is World Brain Day, established to promote the importance of brain health.
Our brains are exceptionally complex and manage everything we experience in life: our actions and reactions, senses, emotions, and how we process the world around us.
Over our lifetimes, our brains change more than any other organ in our body. As we reach our golden years, however, our brains change rapidly and many of us notice negative changes in cognitive skills like memory, attention, and our ability to learn.
Why do these changes occur?
Many factors contribute to brain health, but there are three significant factors I’d like to discuss that can lead to those annoying “senior moments.”
First, our brains begin shrinking long before we reach senior status. Brain volume begins decreasing in our 40s, primarily in the frontal lobe and hippocampus. These areas of our brain are essential for our memories, as well as attention, learning, problem-solving, and even our personalities.
Second, as we age, our bodies become less efficient at dispersing oxygen. While our brains may only account for about 2% of our total body mass, they need about 20% of the oxygen-rich blood pumping through us. As we grow older, our blood vessels can narrow, weaken, or become blocked, limiting blood and oxygen flow and hindering our brain cells’ ability to function.
Finally, the white matter in our brains deteriorates over time. These bundles of nerve fibers pass impulses and information between the different areas of our brains. White matter atrophy slows these lines of communication, impacting how quickly we process information.
Can changes to the brain be stopped?
Some brain atrophy is inevitable. Fortunately, there are many ways to slow the progression of these changes and improve our brain health, no matter our age.
First, take measures to control chronic conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, which all have been linked to cognitive decline.
Taking medications as directed, reducing alcohol intake, eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly will both manage these conditions and improve your brain health. And of course, if you smoke, quit now.
Speaking of diet and exercise, both have significant impacts on brain function.
The MIND Diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurogenerative Delay) is designed to defer the onset of cognitive decline. This diet is high in omega-3 fatty acids to strengthen brain cell structure, flavonoids for improving blood flow, and antioxidants to reduce the buildup of plaques. Brain foods on this plan also include berries, nuts, olive oil, whole grains and beans.
You might think that exercise is only beneficial for our muscles, bones, and heart, but it’s also essential for brain health.
Cardiovascular exercise gets our blood pumping, feeding our brains with oxygen-rich blood.
Weight and resistance training has been found to prevent hippocampus shrinkage, improving memory and executive function. Both should be part of your exercise routine at least three days a week.
Staying mentally and socially active can also slow the progression of age-related cognitive decline. Learning new skills, playing games like crosswords or sudoku, and spending time with others all help keep our brains active and alert.
Finally, oxygen and blood flow can also be improved through interventions like the Aviv Medical Program, a holistic treatment program that includes nutrition coaching, cognitive exercises, physical training, and a unique hyperbaric oxygen protocol designed for optimizing brain performance.
At Aviv Clinics Dubai, we specialize in treating age-related conditions.
To learn more about what we do we invite you to can contact the clinic and schedule a free consultation with one of our physicians.
One of the healthiest agers I know is Dr. Joseph Maroon. At 83 years young, Dr. Maroon is team neurosurgeon for the Pittsburgh Steelers and vice chairman of the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
He’s also an eight-time Ironman triathlon finisher and an Aviv Clinics alumnus.
Watch Dr. Maroon’s unique story:
Cognitive Function Tests: What They Can Unveil About Our Cognitive Health
The brain is a powerful and complex organ. While it produces our every thought, memory, feeling, and experience, it can also work in unpredictable ways.
After all, the brain comprises a staggering one hundred billion nerve cells making up nearly 60 trillion neural connections. This complexity can sometimes make it challenging to pinpoint why we feel or act as we do; however, there are cognitive function tests that can help gain insights.
Also referred to as cognitive screening tests or cognitive assessments, cognitive function tests can help paint a clearer picture of where your brain health currently stands and, more importantly, where to go from there.
We encourage you to learn about these tests to gain more insight about yourself and guide your health journey.
What Are Cognitive Function Tests?
A cognitive function test is a screening tool that explores your cognitive abilities. It aims to learn how your brain works and helps assess which areas of cognitive functioning are strong and which may need support.
These assessments can diagnose the main symptoms presenting in cases of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or other specific conditions. But for a conclusive diagnosis, other measures, such as imaging and medical tests, are needed as well.
The Functions that Cognitive Tests Can Assess
Remember, there is no one cognitive function test. Rather, there are various types of tests, each one designed to measure one or several specific cognitive functions. These could include the following:
- Attention: Your level of alertness and ability to attend to targets and disregard noise
- Information processing speed: How quickly you process information
- Memory: The level at which you encode and recall information
- Executive functions: Your ability to apply information, compare, and make sound judgments
- Spatial skills: How you lean on visual cues and senses to make decisions
Examples of Cognitive Function Tests
Here are some examples of cognitive function tests that may be performed in a clinical setting:
- Verbal Memory: How well can you recognize, remember, and retrieve words?
- Recall appointment times
- Remember to take medications
- Psychomotor Speed: Can you precisely use tools and perform mental and physical coordination?
- Drive a car
- Play a musical instrument
- Processing Speed: How well do you process information?
- React to possible risks
- Respond to issues accurately
- Simple Visual Attention: How is your ability to track something quickly and accurately?
- Simple attention control
- Motor Speed: Are you able to move how you intend to move?
- Manual dexterity actions
Such tests could be included in the following test batteries:
- Neurotrax – A computerized test for cognitive assessment used in research and clinical settings.
- CNS Vital Signs – A computerized batter for cognitive assessment used broadly in clinical settings.
- CANTAB – Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery, administered on a tablet.
Other short screening tests of cognitive functions include:
- MOCA – Montreal Cognitive Assessment. A short paper and pencil test available so on Tablet.
- MMSE – Mini Mental State Examination. A short paper and pencil test.
- Mini-Cog: A short computerized cognitive screening test.
Why Take a Cognitive Function Test?
A cognitive function test may be performed if there are signs and symptoms of cognitive decline or impairment. Someone may also want to gain more information about their cognitive health.
Maybe you’ve noticed changes in yourself or your loved one; perhaps you have a family history of cognitive decline and want insight into your own brain health. These are valid reasons to seek a test.
Think of these test results as insightful data. Cognitive function tests may help unveil areas you may want to improve. We want to emphasize that results from these assessments shouldn’t make you feel incapable or point out your shortcomings; they’re to help you learn more about your brain capabilities and encourage a discussion with your medical team.
What Cognitive Function Tests Show
As noted earlier, cognitive function tests look for cognitive strengths and potential areas of decline. You can use cognitive test results to initiate a conversation with your doctor, who can help you plan the next steps.
According to Dr. Gil Suzin, Head of the Neurocognitive Unit at Aviv Scientific: “The goal is to paint an overall picture of the patient’s health to understand factors that may drive cognitive decline.”
Since each person is different, taking a deeper dive with a professional is essential. Just like you can’t Google your symptoms to diagnose yourself, you can’t take a cognitive test to diagnose any conditions.
Your health specialist may order additional tests or look into your medical history to clarify your situation and determine any support you may need.
What Cognitive Function Tests Do Not Show
Cognitive function tests do not show:
- Why you might have cognitive impairment
- What areas of the brain carry the impairment
- What condition may be causing cognitive impairment
- Whether the impairment is hereditary or acquired
Only a physician or neuropsychologist can address these areas.
How to Prepare for Your Upcoming Cognitive Function Test
You don’t need to prepare for a cognitive test; studying isn’t necessary.
You can rest assured because cognitive function tests consist of simple questions and tasks. The assessment is designed to learn more about you and offers a meaningful workout to your brain. So, relax and go in as yourself.
What to Expect During the Cognitive Test
The test will entail a series of questions and exercises. Cognitive function tests typically cover the following:
- Recall and memory: Being asked to recall objects, places, or people you were shown and/or being asked to describe an event
- Analytical thinking: Solving puzzles via rules and noting relationships between objects or figures
- Attention: Using visual and auditory speed to concentrate and finish tasks
How Long Do the Tests Typically Take?
It depends on the type of test you take, but a cognitive function test typically takes between 25 minutes to 1.5 hours to complete.
Can Cognitive Impairment be Reversed?
With the right protocols and medical team by your side, you can reverse some forms of cognitive impairment. Research illustrates that a variety of therapies, which may include hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), can help:
- Drive the body’s regenerative mechanisms.
- Improve and restore cognitive brain functions.
One study specifically discovered the main improvements involve “attention, information processing speed, and executive functions, which normally decline with aging.”
Your Cognitive Health Matters: Stay Proactive with Aviv Clinics
Every decision we make each day impacts our cognitive well-being, and staying proactive is one of those decisions. If you want to be proactive, you can restore cognitive function with the Aviv Medical Program, which is founded on decades of research that enhances performance and brings relief to our clients.
With our unique protocol and cognitive training, the Aviv Medical Program targets the main cognitive domains known to decline during aging, including:
- Information processing speed
- Executive functions (i.e., response inhibition, cognitive flexibility)
- Fine motor speed & coordination
We assess your cognition at the beginning of the program and again at the end to accurately measure your improvements.
Start your journey with Aviv Clinics today!
Age-Related Cognitive Decline: The Science That Slows It Down
Cognitive health — the ability to think clearly, learn, and remember — is essential in helping us live happy and fulfilling lives.
Maintaining our cognitive health can become a challenge as we get older. Like the physical changes that occur in our bodies (e.g., stiff joints, wrinkles, etc.), our brain’s cognition also changes slowly and subtly over time.
You may notice you’re struggling to pay attention, for example, or find you’re having trouble recalling conversations or people’s names. These experiences are a natural part of aging and manifest as a condition coined age-related cognitive decline.
Cognitive Decline, the Earliest Symptom of Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cognitive decline is a self-reported experience of “worsening or more frequent confusion or memory loss.” It’s considered one of the earliest symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias.
There are different forms of cognitive decline. One type of cognitive decline is mild cognitive impairment (MCI)—the early stage of memory or cognitive ability loss. It’s the phase between natural cognitive decline (due to aging) and the more serious decline.
While experiences may be different person-to-person and can vary daily in scope and severity, common age-related cognitive decline symptoms include the following areas:
- Memory: Forgetting names, dates, and places becomes more frequent. You may place items in odd locations (e.g., car keys in the refrigerator).
- Language: Forming words, phrases, or sentences becomes increasingly more challenging.
- Thinking or judgment: You may lose track of time or your train of thought. Making decisions also becomes more difficult or overwhelming.
- Apathy: An oft-overlooked symptom, suddenly losing interest in your favorite activities and people or giving up when something feels difficult can signal a mental withdrawal during the decline process.
- Incessant rumination: People experiencing cognitive decline can feel chronic stress or get stuck in a fight-or-flight response.
- Other Conditions: Many illnesses and chronic conditions are associated with cognitive decline. They include influenza, gastroenteritis, sleep disorders, diabetes, and cardiovascular issues.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, take the opportunity to have a conversation with an Aviv Clinics physician to assess their severity and what you can do to improve your cognitive health.
Why Age-Related Cognitive Decline Occurs
There are four main reasons age-related cognitive decline may occur:
- Hormonal imbalance: As we age, it’s natural for hormonal imbalances to happen. Research indicates these changes are a key factor in the decline of cognitive function.
- Stroke and head injuries: Head injuries and stroke can damage blood vessels in the brain, which may incite cognitive impairment and even vascular dementia. Even a minor head injury sustained many years in the past increases your chances of developing dementia.
- Psychiatric disorders: Disorders like depression and anxiety have been connected to cognitive and functional decline. They are commonly experienced by MCI patients and can either be a contributing factor or a symptom.
- Heart conditions: Research shows that those in their 40s to early 60s with high blood pressure have a higher risk of experiencing cognitive decline later in life. Lowering blood pressure decreases the risk for MCI.
Disorders Related to Age-Related Cognitive Decline
Approximately 12% to 18% of individuals over age 60 live with mild cognitive impairment. If left untreated, MCI can bring on various disorders related to more significant age-related cognitive decline.
Approximately 10% to 15% of people with MCI develop dementia every year. Dementia is an umbrella term that encompasses a variety of neurological conditions. These conditions negatively affect the brain—nerve cells stop functioning normally and eventually die, causing cognitive decline.
There are different types of dementia, such as:
- Alzheimer’s disease: Those with MCI are at greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease—the most common dementia diagnosis. In addition to cognitive decline, those with Alzheimer’s may experience shifts in behavior and personality. Read about the risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease.
- Frontotemporal dementia (FTD): FTD can occur when there is damage to the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. Someone with FTD can show unusual behaviors, emotional problems, and difficulty communicating.
- Lewy body dementia (LBD): LBD happens when protein builds up in the brain. Common symptoms of LBD include movement issues (e.g., slowed movements, stiffness, tremors), cognitive issues, and mood shifts.
- Vascular dementia: Vascular dementia occurs due to a lack of blood flow to the brain. People typically experience issues with reasoning, planning, judgment, and memory.
How Science Slows Down Cognitive Decline
Your brain is a superpower, but energy (in the form of oxygen and proper nutrition) is needed to make it so. If you give your brain energy, especially as you age, you can effectively slow down the aging process.
Aviv has developed a way to harness the power of oxygen using Nobel Prize-winning research. The Aviv Medical Program includes a variety of therapies, including Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT). What is HBOT? It involves sending 100% pure, pressurized (10-15 times higher than normal) oxygen to your deprived brain cells and body tissues, turbocharging your body’s own regenerative mechanisms. The result is faster healing of damaged tissues and higher regeneration of stem cells.