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.
Life After a Diagnosis of Cognitive Decline: What Now?
Whether you have received a diagnosis of mild cognitive decline, dementia, or Alzheimer’s disease, exploring the possible causes is the first step in moving forward.
Symptoms like forgetting where you have placed your glasses, frequently asking the same question, or failing to recognize familiar people may have led you to seek medical attention. Perhaps your family noticed changes in your mood or personality and urged you to see a doctor. Being evaluated and having a diagnosis may be initially disconcerting and stressful, but how you proceed from here will determine your best outcome.
Often, what may be causing the cognitive issues is something controllable and treatable such as high blood pressure, high blood sugars, stress, anxiety, medications, or drug and alcohol use. No matter what is behind the decline, the key is addressing those things that can be controlled and treated, and then choosing a healthier lifestyle going forward.
What is cognitive decline?
Cognitive impairment is when a person has trouble remembering, learning new things, concentrating, or making decisions that affect their everyday life. It can range from mild to severe, escalating to the point where the person loses the ability to comprehend, write, or speak. At that stage, a person can no longer live independently.
Age is the greatest risk factor for cognitive impairment.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 16 million people in the United States are living with cognitive impairment. An estimated 5.1 million Americans aged 65 and older currently have Alzheimer’s disease, the most well-known form of cognitive impairment; this number may rise to 13.2 million by 2050, the CDC reports.
Stress and anxiety will most certainly follow on the heels of a diagnosis. Learning to cope in healthy ways will be crucial because stress and anxiety can worsen symptoms of cognitive decline. You may be tempted to isolate because you fear being embarrassed by your condition or want to hide your frustration when you are challenged to remember. However, do not shy away from being challenged. Do just the opposite.
Interact even more and engage in things that bring you joy. How you proceed after diagnosis could slow the progression or alter the trajectory of the disease.
Here are six things to do immediately no matter the diagnosis:
- Eat a healthy balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, good proteins and healthy fats, and limit those foods that contain saturated fats like butter and cheese. Some examples of brain-beneficial foods include coffee, blueberries, nuts, dark chocolate, and fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines. Fatty fish contain omega-3 fatty acids which the brain uses to build brain and nerve cells, and are essential for learning new things and storing memories.
- Exercise for at least 30 minutes, five times a week. Whenever you exercise, you are pumping more blood to your brain tissues, and with that comes a lot of oxygen and other nutrients vital for the brain’s functioning. Walking or swimming are great ways to get oxygen-rich blood pumping to the brain.
- Challenge your brain daily with activities that keep it stimulated like doing puzzles, taking quizzes, and reading content you enjoy. They help exercise the brain, enhance creativity, improve problem solving, and may slow memory decline.
- Get adequate sleep. Stay away from things that may overstimulate your body like tea or coffee before bedtime. Put down your phone or computer a couple of hours before bedtime so you can decompress naturally and slowly. Sleep allows your body to cleanse the brain of toxins and waste. Getting enough is essential.
- Find a good support system. It will be critical to build a good support system now that you have received a diagnosis. Whether it is a spouse, a friend, a family member, or a support group, having a connection with someone who cares about you and knows what you’re going through can keep you from feeling alone.
- Manage stress. Self-medicating with drugs and alcohol will only worsen the symptoms of cognitive decline. Instead, try journaling, prayer, meditation, exercise, or whatever works to calm your inner spirit and reduce your stress load.
In some people, mild cognitive impairment can be reversed or remain stable, especially if it is linked to a medication. For others with a diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, the outlook can be harder to swallow since both are progressive conditions, and symptoms will eventually worsen. However, making lifestyle changes like healthy eating and exercising may slow the rate of progression.
The bottom line
Maintaining healthy lifestyle choices, including proper nutrition, exercise, social and cognitive activities, and adequate sleep, may help prevent or delay cognitive decline. For those who receive a diagnosis, the best approach moving forward is to cherish every moment of clarity, enjoy every day you are gifted, and maintain as many healthy choices as possible to slow down the disease.
As leaders in brain performance, the experts at Aviv Clinics understand the impact that a diagnosis of cognitive decline can have. The scientifically proven protocols of the Aviv Medical Program are designed to maintain your cognitive health and even improve the early biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss.
Contact us to schedule a free phone consultation with a client ambassador and learn more about how the Aviv Medical Program can help optimize your brain health and performance.
New Study Shows HBOT Can Reverse the Main Activators of Alzheimer’s Disease and Help Prevent Memory Loss
A groundbreaking new study has brought scientists one step closer to preventing and curing age-related cognitive decline, especially related to early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
This landmark study, published in Aging on September 9th, is part of an ongoing program researching age-related cognitive decline. Conducted by the Sagol School of Neuroscience in Tel Aviv and Tel Aviv University, the study marks the first time that hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT)—a non-pharmaceutical method—has proven effective in reversing the main activators and early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
HBOT is a form of oxygen therapy that involves administering 100% pure oxygen to a patient in a pressurized environment. HBOT has been used for decades to treat other conditions, such as non-healing ischemic wounds, but for the first time, it also has shown promise as a potential treatment for reverse the main activators and early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and treat brain and cognitive problems.
A treatment based on this unique protocol is now available at Aviv Clinics Dubai.
Aging and reduced blood flow
The brain is an incredibly complex organism home to a vast network of nerve cells (neurons) that depend on oxygen to thrive. As we age, the number of blood vessels in our brain naturally begins to decline. This causes reduced blood flow to the brain, which in turn causes the brain to receive less oxygen. This decreased blood flow is also known as vascular dysfunction, and it’s a known precursor to Alzheimer’s disease, along with amyloid plaques.
What is an amyloid plaque?
Amyloid plaques are hard, insoluble clusters of proteins formed in the spaces between neurons. They’re formed from beta amyloids—microscopic protein fragments produced by certain cells in the body. In the brain, beta amyloids are found in the fluid between neurons, and a healthy brain usually flushes them out without consequence. However, just like plaque can accumulate on your teeth if you don’t clean them regularly, the same thing can happen in your brain.
As the brain ages, it’s more susceptible to forming amyloid plaques in its blood vessel walls. Once an amyloid plaque forms it can damage the neurons in the brain, ultimately resulting in neuronal death. These plaques are thought to contribute to the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and the cognitive decline associated with it.
For years, scientists have wondered whether or not it’s even possible to dissolve or shrink amyloid plaques. The groundbreaking new study proves for the first time that a unique protocol of HBOT can both reverse amyloid plaques and prevent them from forming in the first place.
How HBOT can reverse amyloid plaques
Study researchers initially used HBOT with mice to understand the effect it has on amyloid plaques. In this first part of the study, researchers delivered HBOT to a group of mice whose brains contained amyloid plaques. The mice received two 60 minute HBOT sessions a day, five days a week for four weeks. The researchers discovered that HBOT significantly reduced the amyloid burden in the mice’s brains, decreasing amyloid plaques by over 30% and shrinking plaques by nearly 19%.
HBOT was also shown to prevent the formation of new amyloid plaques, and the mice exhibited improved performance on cognitive tasks when compared to the control group, giving us evidence that HBOT improved their cognitive functions.
The mice-based study gave promising new evidence that HBOT can be used as both a treatment and a preventative measure for Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers then sought to use the same protocol with human subjects.
The human test group consisted of six patients around age 70, all suffering from mild cognitive impairment. After receiving 60 daily HBOT sessions over a three-month period, the patients saw significant improvements to their cognitive functions, including better memory recall, concentration, and response times.
The researchers theorize that this is due to HBOT’s ability to increase blood flow in the brain. When the brain receives more blood, it receives more oxygen. And when the brain receives more oxygen, it can function at its full capacity.
What this means going forward
The study gives us hope that HBOT can be used as a viable drug-free and non-invasive method to prevent and treat Alzheimer’s disease, bringing us one step closer to preventing and even repairing memory loss and mild cognitive impairment.
“By treating vascular dysfunction, we’re mapping out the path toward Alzheimer’s prevention. More research is underway to further demonstrate how HBOT can improve cognitive function and become an influential tool in the imperative fight against the disease,” affirms Dr. Shai Efrati, one of the investigators conducting the study.
Dr. Efrati is also a medical advisor to Aviv Clinics in The Villages, Florida, which is the only location in the United States to offer the specific HBOT protocol used in this remarkable study. The Aviv Medical Program uses comprehensive testing and assessments before, during, and after the treatment protocol to track progress and provide multidisciplinary clinical team support.
For more information about the Aviv Medical Program, HBOT treatment, and how it may help your brain health, please contact us.
To read the study published in Journal Aging – click here.
Telomeres and Reverse Aging: A Deep Dive into the Connection
Aging seems to be an inescapable part of life: spines shrink, skin wrinkles, and attention spans dissipate. But what if aging was escapable—or at least reversible? What if scientists were able to target the root cause of aging in our very own cells and treat it as if it were an illness?
Researchers in Israel have conducted the world’s first study to prove that biological aging can be reversed:
- Scientists were able to reverse the biological aging process in “thirty-five healthy independently living adults, aged 64 and older.” Through the targeted application of a unique hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) protocol.
- Telomeres are one of the critical biomarkers of age, and they naturally shorten during the aging process. The research study showed HBOT may help with “increasing telomere length…in the aging populations.”
- These findings are truly groundbreaking, given the accessibility of hyperbaric oxygen treatment. However, Aviv Clinics in central Florida is the only center in the United States to offer this unique HBOT treatment protocol.
So how did these researchers manage to accomplish such a seemingly impossible task that existed only in science fiction just 50 years ago? The answer lies in telomeres—a critical component of your DNA.
What Are Telomeres?
A telomere is a protective cap found at the end of each DNA strand in the human body. They are considered one of “two key hallmarks of the aging process.”
The two types of age to keep in mind are:
- Chronological age, or how many birthdays you have had
- Biological age, or the age that reflects your body’s functions
When considering telomeres, here’s how they manifest in age:
- Short telomeres equate to an older biological age.
- Longer telomeres equate to a healthier, younger biological age.
So it is entirely within reason for a healthy 60-year-old (chronological age) to be much younger (biologically speaking) if they have long, healthy telomeres to continue to protect their cells.
Telomeres and Shoelaces
Telomeres work much like the hardened end caps of shoelaces. Those components on your shoelaces protect the delicate strings they are connected to. Without a protective cap, a shoelace can quickly become frayed and unusable.
As long as the cap persists, a shoelace can stay intact for quite some time. Similarly, telomeres prevent damage from occurring to your underlying DNA:
- With intact telomeres, your cells are protected and they can continue functioning like normal.
- Without telomeres, your cells essentially begin to age and die.
Telomeres and DNA
DNA is a commonly understood component of human biology. Few people go through life consciously thinking about how DNA functions.
Let’s change that with some facts:
- Your DNA contains the biological instructions necessary for your body to continue developing.
- Millions upon millions of cellular processes occur within a human body at any given time.
DNA manages those processes, calmly instructing your cells to divide, consume, and produce complex proteins to stay alive. Telomeres play a vital role in this function.
Telomere Length Naturally Decreases with Age
As we age chronologically, our telomeres naturally shorten. This exposes our DNA, leaving our bodies vulnerable to the diseases and effects of aging.
Some of the common diseases of aging—onset by shortened telomeres—include:
- Heart disease
When the telomeres in your cells become too short, they enter an aged, unhealthy state called senescence. In senescence, a cell can no longer divide to continue replenishing the body’s vital tissues, which makes a person more susceptible to the diseases listed above.
Stress May Impact Telomere Length
External factors like stress can also affect telomere length. The American Psychological Association (APA) reports:
- “Chronic stress and cortisol exposure decrease your supply” of telomerase—the enzyme that replenishes telomeres. So when stress affects your life heavily, you become more susceptible to shorter telomeres.
- Stress is now “one of the most consistent predictors of shorter telomere length.” Exposure to life hardships (e.g., childhood neglect or caregiving in late adulthood) has been particularly noted for its impact on telomere length.
How Aging Manifests
Keep in mind, aging can look different for everyone. Some individuals may notice physical or cognitive changes as they age.
Physical changes may include:
- Wrinkled or sagging skin
- Whitening or graying hair
- Immune, metabolic, kidney, or liver issues
Cognitive changes may include:
- Memory trouble
- Mood shifts
- Slower executive function (e.g., thinking and decision-making, multitasking)
What Is Reverse Aging?
Now for some good news: Whatever type of aging you face, reversing it is possible. When referring to “reverse aging,” we mean biological age. Though chronological aging is inevitable, certain treatments can manage some of the biological shifts that occur because of natural aging and external factors.
The Research Behind Telomeres and Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT)
With the importance of telomeres and aging now understood, most people ultimately want to know:
- How to protect their telomeres, and
- How to repair any degradation that has already occurred.
The scientific research team led by Dr. Shai Efrati, founder and director of the renowned Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research in Israel, proved—for the first time—that reversing biological aging is possible.
By using hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), Dr. Efrati and his team of scientists were able to increase the length of telomeres in people aged 65 or older by more than 20%.
HBOT involves the patient inhaling pure oxygen in a pressurized environment. This study was conducted on 35 different adults aged 65 and higher. Patients had their blood measured before the study, as well as during the 30th and 60th sessions of HBOT.
The findings were truly unbelievable:
- The telomere length of patients who received HBOT “increased significantly by over 20% following HBOT”—in just three months!
- “There was a significant decrease in the number of senescent [cells],” reducing the number of these dangerous, aging cells with little-to-no telomere length by as much as 37%.
These findings were the basis for creating the cutting-edge HBOT protocol only available at Aviv Clinics.
How Can I Protect My Telomeres?
“Telomere length is genetically determined, with heritability estimates ranging from 44% to 80%.” Fortunately, that still leaves you with a wide margin to protect!
Thankfully, there are many different ways you can protect your existing telomeres and thus control damage and the negative impacts of aging. These include:
1. Exercise Regularly
Research has shown that people with high levels of physical activity have significantly longer telomeres than moderately active or sedentary adults. More specifically, adults who regularly exercise demonstrate a biological age difference of nine years when compared to those who don’t.
2. Maintain a Balanced Diet
Like regular exercise, a balanced diet is crucial in protecting telomere length. High levels of body fat create high levels of oxidative stress—stress that directly affects your cellular integrity.
To protect the length of your telomeres, you must reduce the levels of oxidative stress in your body. Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet rich in antioxidants can provide your DNA with the proper protection it needs to maintain healthy, long telomeres.
3. Avoid Smoking & Alcohol Use
You already know that smoking and drinking alcohol aren’t the healthiest decisions—but did you know that people who smoke have shorter telomeres than those who don’t?
Likewise, people who excessively consume alcohol experience faster levels of biological aging than those who don’t. The science is in: If you’re interested in protecting the length of your telomeres, stay away from tobacco and alcohol.
4. Manage Stress
Stress, especially higher cortisol levels, is one of the main reasons for shortened telomeres. Stress takes many forms, but we are mainly concerned with psychological, chronic, and life-related stress.
These kinds of stress raise the levels of oxidative stress placed on the cells of your immune system. Fortunately, there are many wonderful methods for mitigating stress in our daily lives. Whether it is mindfulness, martial arts, or meditation, you will likely be able to find a method that works best for you.
Fight Aging with Aviv Clinics
Aging manifests differently for everyone, but help is available. Aviv Clinic’s age-related decline program is based on research and has helped many clients restore the youthful vitality they seek and deserve.
If you’d like to learn more about how you can boost your cognitive or physical performance while reversing the effects of aging, contact our team.