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.
If you’re concerned about your (or a loved one’s) age-related cognitive decline, be sure to contact Aviv soon.
5 tips for sound sleep and a healthy brain
It doesn’t matter what age you are, getting a good night’s rest is essential for your physical and mental health. Taking the time to recharge every night is especially vital because sleep and brain health are closely related. However, as we age, sleep doesn’t always come as easily as it used to.
In a 2003 poll, the National Sleep Foundation found that over 48% of older adults experience symptoms of insomnia more than twice a week, and the National Institute on Aging reported that insomnia is one of the most common problems experienced by adults aged 60 and over.
Insomnia and sleep disruptions have been known to worsen health conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and increase your risk factors for developing other health problems, including heart disease, Type-2 diabetes, and hypertension. Let’s dig into the science behind sleep and what are our five best tips for a good night’s rest!
Why sleep is so important to our bodies
Sleep gives your body some much-needed rest, but it’s also vital for maintaining your cognitive health. When you lie down to sleep at night, your body takes this time to cleanse your brain of toxins and waste. The space between your brain cells actually enlarges during sleep, allowing your body to wash out harmful substances like beta-amyloid proteins, which researchers have linked to the formation of Alzheimer’s disease. It follows, then, getting enough sleep can help ward off Alzheimer’s disease.
A poor night’s sleep has also been tied to forgetfulness and lapses in memory. Because sleep is the vital period when our brains take time to consolidate our memories, not getting adequate sleep makes you more likely to forget things during the day. A good night’s rest is one of the most powerful weapons in your arsenal in the fight against mental aging.
Why getting enough rest is more difficult as we age
Production of the “sleep hormone” melatonin naturally decreases with age, making it harder for older adults to fall asleep and stay asleep. The aging process also causes changes to the body’s natural circadian rhythm, which can make you get tired earlier than usual. Because of this, older adults are also more likely to experience restless sleep and waking up throughout the night.
Environmental factors can also be to blame, such as stress or a lack of structure in your life. Recent retirees sometimes have a hard time adjusting to changes in their schedule, which can lead to fitful sleep.
How to get a good night’s sleep: build healthier sleep habits
Now that you know why a good night’s sleep is so vital, you’re probably wondering how you can improve the quality of your own rest. If you struggle with tossing and turning or restless nights, don’t worry. The good news is that healthy sleep habits are universal and can be practiced by anyone of any age.
It’s never too late to establish a healthy nighttime routine! Here are our 5 best tips to help you combat insomnia, in no particular order.
Work up a sweat
Exercise helps to keep you in good shape, but did you know that exercising can also improve your sleep? The Sleep Foundation has demonstrated a clear link between exercise and improved sleep quality in adults. Try using a fitness tracker, which can be useful to show your progress and motivate you.
To rest easier at night, try going for a brisk walk or bike ride outside. Exposing yourself to sunshine and fresh air can improve circadian rhythm, so you can stay active with your favorite outdoor hobbies like gardening and fishing. Just be careful not to exercise too late in the day–getting worked up too close to bedtime may actually keep you awake!
Don’t nap during the day
Napping is common among older adults and retirees, with research showing that around 25% of older adults take naps daily. But did you know that your daily power nap may actually be doing more harm than good?
It’s true. While a brief nap can be beneficial for a boost of energy, excessive napping can disrupt your circadian rhythm and make it harder to fall asleep at night. If you absolutely must have a nap, try to take it earlier in the day and make sure to sleep for no more than 30 minutes.
Establish a bedtime routine
Human beings are creatures of habit, so practicing good habits before bed can help improve your rest. If you don’t already have one in place, try establishing a nightly routine before drifting off to sleep.
You can engage in soothing activities like taking a bath, reading a book or meditating, to relax before bed. Sleep comes easier in a cold room, so make sure that your bedroom is cool before you lie down. Always try to fall asleep at roughly the same time every night to establish routine, and make sure that you fall asleep while lying in bed–not in a recliner or on the couch.
Turn off the TV
Although many of us like to fall asleep with the glow of the TV to keep us company, staring at screens before bed can actually disrupt your sleep. The blue lights found in common electronic devices like smartphones, tablets, TVs and computers can disrupt your natural circadian rhythm. That’s why experts recommend cutting out all screens and electronic devices before going to bed.
A few hours before your usual bedtime, turn off all your TVs and power down your tablets, phones and laptops. You can replace time in front of the TV with screen-free activities like doing a jigsaw puzzle, playing cards or drawing in an adult coloring book. Instead of sleeping with your phone on your bedside table, try plugging it up to charge in another room. You’ll be less likely to check for texts or emails in the middle of the night and can rest more peacefully.
Cut back on caffeine and other foods
Eating or drinking certain things too close to bed can cause sleep problems. Foods high in caffeine like coffee and chocolate have been shown to disrupt sleep patterns and interfere with melatonin production. Drinking alcohol late at night also could lead to restless sleep because it can cause decreased REM sleep. Never use alcohol as a sleep aid.
If you can’t do without your morning coffee, that’s perfectly all right. Just make sure that it stays a morning cup. Avoid consuming coffee in the afternoon and eating large meals too close to bedtime. Don’t drink too much water before bed, either, if waking to go to the bathroom is a problem for you. If you must eat before bed, try having something to boost your melatonin, like a handful of almonds or a cup of tart cherry juice.
The bottom line
Along with diet and exercise, getting a good night’s sleep is one of the most important things you can do to maintain a healthy mind and body.
If you’ve tried all these tips and nothing works,
contact Aviv Clinic and schedule a free consultation with our care team: click here