Ever find yourself at the top of the stairs and can’t remember whether you were going up or down them? How about standing in front of an open cupboard and realizing you have forgotten exactly what you were trying to retrieve? These quick blips of forgetfulness are often (somewhat endearingly) called “senior moments” but can seem like a daunting preview of what old age is going to be like.
Fortunately, researchers have found that senior moments aren’t reserved just for older adults and that the brain aging process is more selective. Advancements in scientific research surrounding cognitive decline and dementia have shed some light on how memory and thinking is affected by age and experts recommend these tips for protecting your brain:
Exercise Your Brain
In addition to partaking in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical fitness a week, older adults should also try to exercise the brain! Both physical and mental exercise can guard against cognitive decline as well as improve your existing memory and critical thinking skills. Mental fitness ideas include playing games like Scrabble or Sudoku, doing crossword puzzles, learning a new skill or talent, practicing fine motor skills by crocheting, knitting, or cooking, or even simply reading about a new subject.
Frequently engaging all five senses through tasting, touching, seeing, smelling, and hearing can also play a role in strengthening different areas of the brain. Literally exercising the brain in this capacity can help build a reserve of strong brain cells and fortify the synapses, or communication channels, between them.
Eat for Your Brain
Of all your organs, your brain easily requires the most fuel to sufficiently function. When it comes to diet, you can actually consume foods with nutrients that specifically protect and stimulate healthy cognitive processing. These include antioxidants which help fight oxidative stress, Omega-3 fatty acids which support speech and motor skills, and vitamins and minerals that promote strong blood circulation and electrical signaling.
Wild blueberries have the most antioxidants of any food, but other fresh fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, carrots, blackberries, kale, broccoli and sweet potatoes are also great sources. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fish like wild-caught salmon and sardines as well as flax and chia seeds and walnuts. Essential electrolytes like potassium and magnesium that help brain cells communicate with the body are generated in high doses too in winter squash, potatoes, white beans, beets, and watermelon.
Research continues to reveal the negative impacts stress has on brain health. Stress induces poor lifestyle habits like unhealthy eating, avoiding exercise, and losing sleep, which all contribute to cognitive decline. Stress can also trigger excessive production of the hormone cortisol which has been shown to have a toxic effect on key regions of the brain responsible for memory.
Keep cortisol levels under control and fight stress in your life with practices like meditating, spending more time in nature by gardening or hiking, aromatherapy, coloring, getting a massage, and prioritizing an effective sleep routine. Some dietary modifications can also tackle high cortisol levels; avoid trans fats, processed sugars, caffeine, and alcohol to start.
For some older adults, a diminished sense of thirst can increase the risk for dehydration, and even mild dehydration can result in symptoms like fatigue, brain fog, and difficulty focusing. Stay hydrated throughout the day with simple tips like never leaving the house without a filled reusable water bottle, eating lots of water-rich dishes like soups, smoothies, and stews, and even setting water reminders on your alarm clock or smartphone.
You may be curious if filtering tap water is important, especially when you are trying to drink 8 to 10 glasses a day. Research has indeed shown that home water filtration systems efficiently eliminate toxins like fluoride from drinking water as well as other contaminants like bacteria and heavy metals linked to cognitive decline.
Get More Sleep
Poor sleep habits can lead to more than just a feeling of being tired the following day. In fact, a recent study from the National Institutes of Health has found that sleep deprivation increases risk for a brain buildup of beta-amyloid, the proteins responsible for impaired brain function and Alzheimer’s.
Keep senior moments at bay by making sure you are getting enough, quality sleep each night. This means fostering an environment conducive to sleeping, i.e. a dark, cool and quiet bedroom. Experts recommend avoiding blue light exposure from digital devices in the hours leading up to bed, skipping late day caffeine fixes, and establishing bedtime rituals that help you relax like taking a warm bath, reading, or using essential oils.