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Cognitive Function & Age

As we age, our cognitive functions gradually decline, leading to changes in our memory, attention, and problem-solving abilities. These changes can be frustrating and impact our daily lives, but they are a natural part of the aging process. Although, these cognitive changes (potentially negative) can be accelerated in those who have sustained head injuries. However, it is possible to preserve brain health and slow down cognitive decline through a combination of healthy lifestyle choices and cognitive training.

CHANGES IN COGNITIVE FUNCTIONS WITH AGE


As we age, the size of our brain decreases [1], and along with this we have subtle and gradual changes in cognitive function such as:

  • Decline in processing speed

One of the most significant changes in the aging brain is a decline in processing speed [2]. This means that it takes longer for older adults to perform cognitive tasks, such as identifying objects, making decisions, or recalling information.

  • Decreased memory

Older adults may experience changes in their memory, particularly in their ability to recall details [3].

  • Decreased attention

This is particularly evident when multi-tasking, and switching between tasks. Older people have more difficulty with paying attention to multiple streams of information [4]


WAYS TO PRESERVE BRAIN HEALTH


Exercise

While some cognitive decline is inevitable, there are steps that individuals can take to preserve their brain health and reduce the impact of cognitive decline. One of the most critical factors is maintaining a healthy lifestyle [5]. This includes regular exercise, a healthy diet, and adequate sleep. Exercise has been shown to improve cognitive function in older adults, potentially by increasing blood flow to the brain and reducing inflammation [6].


Supplement a Healthy Diet

Nootropics are a category of supplements that are used to enhance memory or other cognitive functions [7].


There are a number of natural nootropics that can have positive benefits of cognitive health and function, such as:

  • Ashwaghanda (Withania Somnifera)

  • Rhodiola (Rhodiola Rosea)

  • Turmeric (Curcuma Longa)

  • Bilberry (Vaccinium Myrtillus)

  • Lemon Balm (Melissa Officinalis)

  • Giseng

  • Omega-3

  • Ginko Biloba

  • And more…..

Build a Cognitive Reserve


The "cognitive reserve" hypothesis suggests that individuals with higher levels of cognitive reserve, such as those who engage in intellectual activities throughout their lives, are better able to cope with the neural changes that occur with age [8]. In other words, engaging in intellectually stimulating activities throughout life can help build cognitive reserve and potentially delay or reduce the impact of cognitive decline.

Engaging in mentally stimulating activities, such as reading, playing board games, or learning a new language. These activities can help build cognitive reserve and potentially slow down cognitive decline [9, 5]. Cognitive training programs, which involve completing exercises designed to improve specific cognitive functions, have also shown promise in preserving brain health in older adults [10, 11].


Be Socially Active


Furthermore, social engagement has been linked to better cognitive function in older adults [5]. Staying connected with friends and family, volunteering, or participating in social activities can help promote cognitive health and reduce the risk of cognitive decline.

Summary


Cognitive decline is a natural part of the aging process, but there are steps that individuals can take to preserve brain health and potentially reduce the impact of cognitive decline. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, engaging in intellectually stimulating activities, participating in cognitive training programs, and staying socially engaged are all important factors. While cognitive decline cannot be completely prevented, these strategies can help individuals maintain cognitive function and improve their quality of life as they age.


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Daniel Glassbrook, PhD


Daniel is a sports scientist and researcher, currently working as the first team sports scientist for the Newcastle Falcons Rugby Club, and a postdoctoral researcher in sports related concussion at Durham University.


References

1. Harada, C. N., Love, M. C. N., & Triebel, K. L. (2013). Normal cognitive aging. Clinics in geriatric medicine, 29(4), 737-752.

2. Murman D. L. (2015). The Impact of Age on Cognition. Seminars in hearing, 36(3), 111–121.

3. Grady, C. L., & Craik, F. I. (2000). Changes in memory processing with age. Current opinion in neurobiology, 10(2), 224-231.

4. Glisky, E. L. (2007). Changes in cognitive function in human aging. Brain aging, 3-20.

5. Kramer, A. F., Bherer, L., Colcombe, S. J., Dong, W., & Greenough, W. T. (2004). Environmental influences on cognitive and brain plasticity during aging. The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, 59(9), M940-M957.

6. Barnes J. N. (2015). Exercise, cognitive function, and aging. Advances in physiology education, 39(2), 55–62.

7. Malík, M., & Tlustoš, P. (2022). Nootropics as cognitive enhancers: types, dosage and side effects of smart drugs. Nutrients, 14(16), 3367.

8. Tucker-Drob, E. M., Johnson, K. E., & Jones, R. N. (2009). The cognitive reserve hypothesis: a longitudinal examination of age-associated declines in reasoning and processing speed. Developmental psychology, 45(2), 431.

9. Hertzog, C., Kramer, A. F., Wilson, R. S., & Lindenberger, U. (2008). Enrichment effects on adult cognitive development: can the functional capacity of older adults be preserved and enhanced?. Psychological science in the public interest, 9(1), 1-65.

10. Park, D. C., & Bischof, G. N. (2013). The aging mind: neuroplasticity in response to cognitive training. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 15(1), 109-119.

11. Rebok, G. W., Ball, K., Guey, L. T., Jones, R. N., Kim, H. Y., King, J. W., ... & ACTIVE Study Group. (2014). Ten‐year effects of the advanced cognitive training for independent and vital elderly cognitive training trial on cognition and everyday functioning in older adults. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 62(1), 16-24.

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