Mrs. Linda, 73 year old, lived with her beloved family on a farm for most of her life. She made a lot of memories over the years and was living happily. Few years after she was diagnosed with diabetes, she started struggling with routine activities. Her son used to take care of her and give her medications. One day she started acting strange and refused to recognize her own son. After consulting with a healthcare professional, she was diagnosed with dementia. Her family was very upset about her condition.
People go through different phases of their life and as they grow older, brain function starts to decline due to which they start to forget things and struggle maintaining focus. Some people face trouble learning and retaining information while others find it hard to perform tasks that require fine skills. These skills define our cognitive abilities.
Cognition is related to our thinking and learning skills. Cognitive disorders involve a lack of attention, difficulty learning and focus, acquiring and retaining memory and problem solving. Cognitive disorders can affect simple tasks such as playing a simple game to handling complex machines. In old age, the key to improving cognitive skills is to prevent the brain from age related degeneration.
You might have wondered why old people struggle to learn new technology. One of the reasons is that technology adoption requires cognitive learning which depends on learners comprehension to acquire new knowledge. Although age is a primary risk factor, there are other factors like brain injury, genetics, physical inactivity, and certain chronic diseases (diabetes, heart diseases, Parkinson’s disease) that can affect cognitive health.
Better act now to avoid the brain from ageing!
Health tips to improve cognitive health
Some tips can be included in everyday life with routine activities while others can be used as targeted work out for the brain.
- Healthy eating and taking care of the gut
Cognition was originally thought to be exclusively regulated by the brain but there is emerging evidence that supports the role of gut microbiome for cognitive wellbeing. Microbes living in the gut constitute the “gut microbiome”. Probiotics are the external source of obtaining beneficial microbes and may improve cognitive health by maintaining gut health.
High cholesterol and sugar are risk factors for dementia and other mental disorders. Avoid excess sugar and fried foods. Promote intake of fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, and omega rich oils. Wild blueberry intake has been reported to increase cognitive function in both young and old adults.
Perhaps a dark chocolate treat every day can help improve cognition. Dark chocolate contains a high content of cocoa. Cocoa contains flavonoids, compounds that are reported to enhance brain function by interfering with brain signaling.
- Physical activity
Physical activity is crucial to mental health wellbeing including cognition. During exercise, muscle contraction stimulates the release of certain exercise factors also known as “myokines”. These myokines regulate whole body metabolism by interacting with other organs and improve brain function. Studies have also revealed superior benefits of aerobic exercise on a brain area that is associated with executive function.
Physical activity can also decrease the risk of getting other chronic diseases. There is a 20% to 30% lower risk of depression and dementia for adults participating in daily physical activity.
- Get enough sleep
Sleep is essential for maintaining optimal cognitive health. Sleep regains energy status and prepares you for activities the next day. Studies have shown that a lack of quality sleep leads to poor short-term memory, attention, decision making, learning and speed of processing. Adults require 7-9 hours of sleep daily.
- Practice mindfulness meditation
Research has shown a positive impact of meditation on brain function. Meditation can slow the progress of the brain getting old. Studies have shown a positive impact of meditation on improving cognition even for a short term basis (4 days).
- Practice mental gymnastics
Playing games like memory card games, board games, and crossword puzzles engages the brain and improves attention, memory, and problem-solving skills. Action video games that involve fast motion, vigilant monitoring, and tracking multiple targets are reported to improve cognitive abilities. Research shows elders who engage in specific mentally stimulating activities have a decreased risk of cognitive decline.
- Train to improve intelligence
Intelligence is one of the cognitive abilities based on your ability to learn, retain and use knowledge to solve a problem. It was traditionally believed to be related to genetics, but there is emerging evidence to support that intelligence can be improved to a certain extent with the help of training. One of the game-changer studies provides evidence that with proper training and duration of the training, intelligence can significantly improve. In this study, participants were trained on audio and visual working memory tasks for 1-2 weeks, after which their cognitive ability scores were assessed.
Another study determined the mechanism behind improved cognition. As a result, working memory training for 14 hours daily for 5 weeks increases the binding capacity of DRD2. DRD2 are dopamine receptors that regulate memory, learning, and the development of brain cells.
- Herbal remedies to improve cognitive health
Panax ginseng, rosemary, bacopa, senega, sage, and saffron are herbal remedies reported to benefit cognitive health. Multiple clinical studies have shown the cognitive benefits of ginseng and bacopa to be comparable to a pharmaceutical cognitive enhancer modafinil. Studies on ginseng reported the use of a dose of 200-400 mg daily, bacopa 250-450 mg daily, and modafinil 100-400 mg daily for enhanced cognitive function.
Further insights on these herbs can be found in the Nara plant library.