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Cognitive decline Increasing evidence indicates that certain lifestyle factors can affect the chances of developing cognitive decline as people age.  A research summary published online on June 1 in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association indicates that there are things a person can do that may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s or other cognitive impairments.  Since June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, here is a list of some of the factors that may affect cognitive decline:

  • Cardiovascular exercise. Physical activity, especially activity that increases heart rate and blood flow has been associated with reduced risk of cognitive decline.
  • Learning new things at any age can reduce the risk of decline, so finding ways to educate yourself, either in a formal classroom setting or online, can help.
  • Smoking can increase the risk of cognitive decline, so it should be avoided.
  • Heart health. It appears that cardiovascular health is related to cognitive health, so taking care of the heart may take care of the brain as well.
  • Taking safety precautions to protect the brain from injury, such as wearing seatbelts or helmets and taking measures to avoid falls, is a very good idea since brain injury is associated with cognitive decline.
  • While research is limited, it appears that a well-balanced diet, such as the Mediterranean Diet, may reduce the risk of cognitive decline as well.
  • Sleep patterns. Prolonged lack of sleep, such as what can occur with insomnia and sleep apnea, can result in problems with memory and thinking.
  • Mental health. Some studies have found a link between mental health conditions like depression and an increased risk of cognitive decline, so getting treatment for things like depression or anxiety and managing stress could help reduce risk also.
  • Social engagement. There is an increasing amount of evidence that indicates that social interaction is also important to maintaining cognitive function.
  • Mental challenges. Engaging in activities that are mentally challenging and stimulating, such as bridge, chess, jigsaw puzzles, etc. can have both short-term and long-term positive effects on the brain.

The research as to what can affect our cognitive abilities is ongoing and constantly evolving, but it appears that lifestyle does have some effect on whether or not we experience cognitive decline later in life.  Taking certain precautions and being proactive could reduce the chances of developing Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia for some, and are therefore worth some effort and consideration.

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