Your Brain and Aging

Researchers in a large study have found that the incidence of dementia in people aged 60 and older has dropped from 3.5 per 100 people to 2.0 per 100 over the course of the 35 year study. There are two possible explanations for this drop, neither of which has yet been proved. One is that the risk factors for cardiovascular disease (like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking) are better controlled now. The second possibility is that the trend in improved educational attainment over time may delay the symptoms of dementia. However, the number of people with dementia is not falling because the older population is growing, and that is placing a tremendous burden on society. The memory loss and cognitive decline associated with dementia can be attributed to two major conditions. The first is Alzheimer’s disease, which is characterized by abnormal fragments of a protein called amyloid in combination with tangles of protein known as tau. Amyloid accelerates the spread of tau throughout the brain and causes cognitive decline. The second is vascular dementia which is caused by damage to blood vessels in the brain, often a result of a lack of oxygen or damage to the brain’s white matter. Roughly half the people with memory loss have both amyloid and vascular damage. It appears that people with a more intellectual lifestyle may have a delay in experiencing symptoms of decline although their brains are going through the same changes as in the rest of the population.

So what can you do? Controlling blood pressure through a healthy diet and exercise can improve cognitive function. Similarly, high blood sugar may have a negative effect on the brain, much as it causes cardiovascular disease in other body organs, so keeping that under control is beneficial. Hearing loss is also linked to a higher rate of cognitive decline since it may cause the brain to put more resources into decoding messages rather than memory or thinking ability, lead to brain atrophy and cause social isolation, which is a risk factor for cognitive health. So get your hearing checked, eat a healthy diet and stay socially and physically active.

This article was submitted by Theresa Santoro, MSN, RN, CHCA
RVNA President & CEO. She may be reached at 203-438-4555. See ads on Inside Front Cover and page…