Have a use it or lose it mentality

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By The Staff

A mind is a terrible thing to waste, especially when there are ways to save it. Although everyone experiences some degree of mental decline as they age, the good news is that there are ways to delay – and even prevent – it, according to Raymond Crowel, Psy. D., vice president of mental health and substance abuse services at the National Mental Health Association.

Am I Losing my Mind?

Age-related cognitive decline usually begins slowly, around age 60, according to the American Federation for Aging Research. But most adults don’t feel the effects until after age 70.

Common symptoms include a shorter attention span, slower processing speeds and reaction time, and decreased short-term memory. Decline often begins with forgetfulness – forgetting names and misplacing small objects, such as car keys.

Research shows that normal cognitive decline may occur as the brain shrinks and loses neurons as it ages. Causes of accelerated cognitive loss include Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and senile dementia. While treatments are now available for such conditions, age-related cognitive decline is best combated through prevention.

However, if you already experience diminished brainpower, it’s not too late. In 2004, the Seattle Longitudinal Study of Adult Intelligence found that nearly 40 percent of adults can return to normal brain function through frequent mental stimulation.

Elephants do Forget

Age-related cognitive decline afflicts nearly all mammals, even elephants. Fortunately, as humans we can incorporate behavior into our lifestyles to keep us alert well into old age. “Barring the effects of disease, cognitive decline does not have to be a problem in later life,” Crowel says. “There are ways to keep your mind healthy and active as you age.”

Take these tips to heart and you’ll be begging to take an IQ test on your 90th birthday.

Eat right: Malnutrition is a contributor to brain loss. Eating a well-balanced diet provides the nutrients your mind and body need to stay sharp.

Be sure to get plenty of vitamins E, C and B12, which recent studies have shown to be beneficial in protecting against dementia.

Exercise regularly: Working out gets oxygen flowing to your brain. Without an adequate supply of oxygen, your brain cannot perform to its fullest ability. Physical activity also reduces stress and improves your mood, both crucial to staving off cognitive decline.

Socialize: Research suggests that the more social you are, the less likely you are to develop dementia. A recent Swedish study found that seniors who stay socially active are about 30 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease compared with those who do not.

So invite a few friends over to enjoy one another’s company and conversation. Or make it a dinner party and serve dishes that you’ve never tried before.

Keep learning: Any type of activity that involves complex thinking, from taking an art history class to playing checkers or joining a book club, can help decrease your risk of dementia. Crossword puzzles and word searches also are great tools to stimulate your mind.

Volunteer: Roll up your sleeves and give back to your community. Volunteer to do things that make you think, such as recording books on tape for the blind or lending a hand at your local library.

Schedule regular checkups: Although modest cognitive decline in later life is expected, it can, in some cases, indicate an underlying condition. See your doctor regularly.

This article is brought to you by Munroe Regional Medical Center. If you have health questions or need a physician referral, call the Munroe Regional Health Resource Line at 867-8181 or visit www.MunroeRegional.com.