Our brain is the most delicate part of the human body. It’s in charge of controlling virtually every function, whether it’s conscious or subconscious.
Even while we’re fast asleep, it’s still keeping busy. Considering our brain is active 24/7 and bears the responsibility of controlling every beating pulse and movement our body makes, it deserves sufficient maintenance.
Our brain needs the proper amount of oxygen, stimulation on a daily basis, and most of all it needs to be taken care of as we grow older. In order to ensure that we maximize our brain’s potential, we have to take care of it as it begins to age.
Let’s take a look at some aging brain facts to better understand its importance.
What Are the Effects of Aging on the Human Brain?
As we grow older, it’s natural for certain parts of the body to slow down. The brain slowing can have fatal consequences if we do not take care of it on a daily basis. Researchers have been studying the brain and what happens to it when people have been diagnosed with neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.As a person gets older, certain parts of the brain begin to shrink, especially the prefrontal cortex. This area is particularly important for learning, retaining and recalling memory, planning, and other mental activities. In addition, the changes in neurons and neurotransmitters can affect the communication between certain parts of the brain.Moreover, the blood vessels, which are an essential component for the flow of blood to the brain, can shrink because arteries are narrowed. This causes less growth of new capillaries.When we injure a certain part of our body, inflammation occurs, which can be quite painful. Many people don’t realize that when the brain begins to age, inflammation can increase significantly, even with a small injury. This causes the rest of the body to slow down as well, because when your body is inflamed, it cannot move at the pace that it usually would.As the brain begins to age, some people may notice a decline in their ability to learn new things along with difficulties retrieving information. Remembering names and recent events is just the tip of the iceberg. Not being able to stay attentive during certain tasks that a younger individual would be able to do is another thing to watch out for.
Common Aging Brain Symptoms
As you get older, you need to start monitoring your brain function. At times, this can become difficult because you don’t want to misdiagnose yourself, or perhaps you simply don’t want to accept the fact that you’re aging. Luckily, we can narrow down the symptoms so that you know when it might be time to see a doctor if need be.The proper term for your brain aging is “aging brain syndrome.” The meaning is exactly as it sounds: the process in which your brain begins to age, causing psychological and neurological symptoms. Some of those symptoms include:
- Uncooperative behavior
- Sense of failure
The most common of these symptoms are confusion, depression, and uncooperative behavior.Confusion is often caused by forgetfulness, anxiety, and fatigue. As the brain ages, we become more tired and fatigued, which can cause a lot of anxiety. You can see how other symptoms tie into an individual becoming confused. When you become confused, you begin to forget what is real and what is not, and it can get harder over time for the brain to make that distinction.
Depression is actually caused by the same symptoms that lead to confusion for older adults—stress, fatigue, and forgetfulness. If you wake up in the morning and don’t know what day it is, or you’re constantly tired and worrying about yourself, you may start to feel helpless, because of your inability to fully use your brain.
Uncooperative behavior can be the most difficult symptom to deal with if you’re aiding an individual with aging brain syndrome. The person can actually become quite violent and aggressive if they are not allowed to do certain things. For example, if the person used to be a smoker and they have that taken away, they could feel a sense of betrayal and become hostile until they get what they want. This could also relate to the fact that they may not remember giving up the habit in the first place.
6 Ways to Take Care of Your Brain Health
Taking care of your brain does not always mean taking the prescription route. The following are some aging brain exercises you can implement into your daily routine:
1. Keeping a Medical Journal
Keeping track of medical records, test results, current medications, old and new allergies, and other health changes can be very beneficial in monitoring a person’s brain health. It can also help catch early symptoms if brain health begins to deteriorate.
2. Having an Alert System
If an individual with deteriorating brain health wants to live alone, developing an alert system can be very helpful as well. Notifying neighbors of the alert system is a good idea, too. If something goes wrong, or if a neighbor sees the person wandering around looking lost, this alert system could potentially save the life of that individual and others who may be in danger.
3. Developing a Good Relationship with Your Doctor
Many doctors appreciate input, as well as when caregivers or family members accompany the individual to appointments. If you are accompanying someone to a doctor’s visit, schedule a follow-up appointment while you’re still in the office. In addition, you can get them to sign a privacy release form so you can have the option to discuss their health and care with the doctor over the phone on their behalf.
4. Aging Brain Exercises
The World Health Organization (WHO) released a study stating that more than 35 million people worldwide are suffering from dementia. Mild cognitive impairment may be the early stage of dementia. Scientists believe that is the stage where we can intervene before it has a chance to develop further.
5. Aerobic Exercises
A 26-week study was done by researchers from Canada and the Netherlands that included 86 women who were between the ages of 70 and 80. The participants were introduced to aerobic training, resistance training, and balance training regiments. Before the study began, researchers took note of the volume of each participant’s hippocampus (the region of the brain associated with memory) and evaluated their performance on a verbal learning test.
The results showed that the participants that did the aerobic exercises increased their hippocampal volume at the end of the 26 weeks. Those who did the resistance training exercises did not see this effect.
According to the researchers of the study, the increase in hippocampal volume as a result of the aerobic exercise was caused by the increased stimulation of neurogenesis, or the growth of new neurons.
6. Neural Exercises
Gary Small, a professor of psychiatry and aging at UCLA, states that there are always ways we can reduce the effects of memory loss by simply exercising our brain. He goes on to say that the biggest reason people don’t remember something is because they’re simply not paying attention.
He refers to “snap” as a reminder to create a mental snapshot of information you want to recall later. Many of us find it easier to remember visual information than other types of information. By later linking these mental snapshots, we create a visual “to-do” list, so to speak.
Neuroscientist Ottavio Arancio of Columbia University states that the brain’s ability to learn and remember as we age is directly related to how active we are and how much we enjoy the things we do. It makes perfect sense; if you’re enjoying something that you’re doing, you will generally remember it, because it’s a positive association.
For example, a fun night out with your close friends has more potential to be recalled than a boring lecture where you were sitting for long periods of time, struggling to absorb copious amounts of information.
8 Healthy Nutrients Useful for the Aging Brain
As many people age, they can experience various types of cognitive issues. These issues can range from decreased critical thinking to dementia or Alzheimer’s. A recent report by the Institute of Food Technologists outlined a few nutrients you can incorporate into your diet that can benefit brain health:
1. Cocoa Flavanols
This has been linked to improving circulation and heart health. Recent research has also linked it to memory improvement. Cocoa flavanols are said to improve the dentate gyrus region of the brain, which is associated with age-related memory.
2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
A recent study that was done on mice found that omega-3 fatty acid supplements result in better memory recognition as well as improved spatial and localizatory memory. Specific foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids are salmon, flaxseed oil, and chia seeds.
If you include walnuts in your diet, you may be able to reduce the risk or even delay the progression of Alzheimer’s, according to a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
This natural substance is found in the body’s cells and helps with the development of brain tissue which then helps with memory and enhances communication between neurons. Studies have shown that citicoline supplements can help maintain normal cognitive functions with an aging brain and also protect the brain from any radical damage.
Normally associated with liver and women’s health, choline can help with the communication systems for cells between the brain and the rest of the body. It can also support the brain during the aging process and help prevent changes in the brain that will result in cognitive decline and eventual failure.
These supplements are mainly used for people who suffer from multiple concussions. Foods that contain magnesium are avocado, soy beans, bananas, and dark chocolate.
This fruit is known to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, because of their high concentration of anthocyanins. A handful of blueberries can offer neurocognitive benefits like increasing neural signals in the brain.
8. Phosphatidylserine and Phosphatidic Acid
Two studies have shown that the combination of phosphatidylserine and phosphatidic acid can actually help increase memory, mood, and cognitive functions for the elderly.
Be Good to Your Brain
Our mind is extremely delicate, used for controlling every decision and movement we make in life. Despite knowing this, we tend to stray away and do things that harm our brains. Our memory will not last forever—at least it won’t if we become lazy and don’t exercise it regularly the way we do our bodies.
In addition to staying physically active, add the supplements previously mentioned into your diet, make an effort to read more, and make it a point to engage in activities that keep you active and happy. If you can remember to do these types of things, your brain will age gracefully.
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Beck, J., “Study: Exercise Helps Aging Brains Grow Larger,” The Atlantic web site, April 8, 2014; http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/04/study-exercise-helps-aging-brains-grow-larger/360291/.
“Eight nutrients to protect the aging brain,” Science Daily web site, April 15, 2015; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/04/150415203340.htm.
“Whiteman, H., “Walnut-enriched diet slows Alzheimer’s progression in mice,” Medical News Today web site, October 26, 2014; http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/284317.php.