Staying on Top of your Aging Brain

CHICOPEE, Mass. (Mass Appeal)  We all are aging. And for the most part, getting older can bring new opportunities and new joys. But…aging causes changes to the brain size, vasculature, and cognition.  Elaine Ducharme Ph.D, ABPP shared tips to stay sharp.

A child's brain has twice as many synapses as an adult's brain. In a process called pruning, the neural connections that are used and reinforced most often—like those used for language—are strengthened, while the ones that are not utilized as much fizzle and die.

In our mid 20's  our brain is at peak performance. The regions in the frontal lobe that are responsible for judgment, planning, weighing risks and decision-making finally finish developing.

By our mid 40s we often discover we have gone to get something in another room, but when we get there can't recall what we were looking for.

On the upside, other measures of cognition—such as moral decision-making, regulating emotions and reading social situations—have been shown to improve beginning with middle age.

We do know that protective factors that reduce cardiovascular risk, namely regular exercise, a healthy diet, and low to moderate alcohol intake, seem to aid the aging brain as does increased cognitive effort in the form of education or occupational attainment. A healthy life both physically and mentally may be the best defense against the changes of an aging brain.

Just as working out at the gym strengthens your muscles, keeping your mind engaged seems to increase the brain's vitality and may build its reserves of brain cells and connections. Here are a few tips to help you maintain your best cognitive functioning as you age:

  1. Play an instrument: Whether you pull out your old trumpet from high school or begin playing something new, the regions of your brain responsible for motor, auditory and visual-spatial skills are utilized and strengthened every time you play.
  2. Learn another language: Or go back and review a language you have studied in the past. This can stimulate several areas of your brain that are responsible for memory, reasoning and thought.
  3. Play Brain Games: Sudoku, crossword puzzles word searches and other such games can help generate new brain cells and fortify existing neural connections involved in reasoning, memory and the ability to process, store and retrieve information more quickly and efficiently.
  4. Read a book: This engages the parts of your brain responsible for vision, language and associative learning.
  5. Dance: All exercise increases blood flow to the brain. But Dance activates areas in the brain that control motor skills, balance, coordination and spatial awareness. And besides…dancing is so much fun!
  6. Write: While some of you may have a book inside of you that needs to come out, for others just journaling our thoughts provides cognitive stimulation. Think about writing down information that you wish you might have received from a parent or grandparent but never did.
  7. Travel: Planning and taking trips to new places is great for many people. Learning about where you are going and what you are going to do and see clearly stimulates the brain.
  8. Practice mindfulness: Whatever you do, take time to really enjoy it. By focusing on what you are actually doing and enjoying it, you can decrease your stress levels and enjoy life in general.

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