A recent article in the New York Times revealed that gerontology is not attracting doctors and there are fewer and fewer specialists on aging, just as we need them the most! So it is important that each of us try to take care of our bodies and minds and stay healthy.
Where should we begin? Let’s start with our memory. Every one of us in the “senior” category has noticed that we don’t remember as quickly or as thoroughly as we used to. The name of a long lost friend or a favorite movie seems to have disappeared from our brain, but for most of us, it isn’t a completely lost memory, it is just delayed. The name of the actor you were trying to think of? You will remember tomorrow. The friend from summer camp? Perhaps it will come to you in a day or two. Often called “a senior moment,” think of it rather as “delayed recall.”
Luckily, there is a lot of research now about aging, often related to memory and cognition as it is a major factor in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Advanced age is the main risk factor for Alzheimer’s or dementia, and as we live longer, our chances of forgetting increase. While we can’t prevent memory decline, there are lifestyle changes we can make to diminish the risks.
The latest suggestions are not at all surprising as they apply to both the physical and mental challenges of aging. For example, a study presented at a recent Alzheimer’s conference reported that a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy and meat and fish, with lower intake of fat resulted in a 40 percent reduction of cognitive decline. Of course we already knew this, but it helps to have the experts confirm it!
Another study suggests that exercise improves brain function as well as improving blood flow and cardiovascular fitness. Seniors who were previously inactive were put on a 12 week exercise program and their performance in memory retrieval greatly improved when tested.
Watching your weight is another factor in keeping your memory fit. A study revealed that being obese increased the risk for memory decline.
According to Dr.Sam Gandy of the Mt. Sinai Alzheimer’s Research Center, cognitive decline can be reduced by keeping the brain active. Brain stimulating activities, like reading, learning a new language or improving your computer skills can keep the brain challenged, as can crossword puzzles, board games or Sudoku.
Having an active social life is another factor in keeping your memory sharper and your brain engaged. While experts agree that more research is needed to determine why social activity seems to work, Dr. Gandy suggests joining a senior center, forming a book club and volunteering. If you already have physical limitations, there are still many ways you can stay socially involved.