By S. Alease Ferguson, Ph.D., LPCC
You are never too young or too old to work at keeping your mind bright and stimulated! Humans are the only animals whose brains are not fully developed at birth. Our growth occurs over many years, experiences and developmental stages until death. Most of us are considered full-term live births at the end of the three trimesters, while others are born premature and will hopefully thrive with medical supports. Yet our entire lives from birth to death are considered the “fourth trimester” by today’s medical practitioners, physiologists, neurologists and neuropsychologists. Choices about what we do with our bodies, thoughts, time, and energy matters as we age. As we age, there are new habits we can acquire to help enrich our mental functioning and state of mind.
Aging Brain Concerns
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Alzheimer’s disease is ranked as the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and is the fifth leading cause among people ages 65 years and over. Other estimates indicate the disorder may rank a close third, behind heart disease and cancer, as a cause of death for those 85 years and older.
Mortality data from the National Vital Statistics System suggests that the age-adjusted death rate from Alzheimer’s Disease increased by 39% from 2000 through 2010 in the United States. People aged 85 years and over have a 5.4 times greater risk of dying from Alzheimer’s disease. (Products – Data Briefs – Number 116 – March 2013. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db116.htm.)
According to the CDC, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. It also affects approximately 5.5 million Americans. The current death rate from Alzheimer’s disease has seen a 55% increase over the last 15 years, while experts expect the rates to balloon to 13.8 million by 2050. Despite these startling statistics, you can take steps to lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Lifelong Strategies for Enriching Your Mental Functioning
Always consult your doctor before making major lifestyle changes and consider the following changes:
- Maintain a healthy diet. Evidence suggests a Mediterranean diet may decrease your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Other studies suggest antioxidants may affect age-related changes in the brain.
- Quit all forms of smoking (vaping, cigarettes, cigars, and marijuana use) immediately!
- Exercise and walk daily or at a minimum of three times a week.
- Keep up the practice of daily mental exercise as an active brain may reduce your risk. Help the process along by talking and interacting with others more, reading, playing cards and engaging in mental exercises which can create, build, preserve and contribute to your “cognitive reserve;” and
- Boost your levels of social engagement. Research suggests that homebound seniors are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease compared to those who are socially involved and supported.
The blog 60 Small Ways to Improve Your Life in the Next 100 Days https://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/60-small-ways-to-improve-your-life-in-the-next-100-days.html offers a series of strategies for keeping an engaged, bright, and stimulated mind. Overall, it requires setting up new routines and habit patterns that challenge us to be our best! Consider adding these new habits over the next 100-day period to rewire your brain:
- Make reading an everyday habit. Read newspapers, magazines and journals online or in hardcopy version. Choose books that require concentration and that can be read a little bit at a time daily. Read your books cover to cover.
- Stop grumbling and complaining to improve your disposition and outlook. “Negative talk always creates negative thoughts and negative results,” writes author Will Bowen in his book A Complaint Free World.
- When you catch yourself complaining, stop and redirect your thoughts.
- Do not let a day pass without learning something new. Take time to learn new words, definitions, crafts and art forms, the capitals of faraway countries, the name of a flower or vegetation, international foods, the names of songs and dances.
- Feed your mind with positive thoughts, words and images that are consistent with a positive you and what you want to achieve. Take the time to think about what motivates you the most. Focus on ramping up your passion for life!
- Limit your exposure to stress.
- 60 Small Ways to Improve Your Life in the Next 100 Days. https://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/60-small-ways-to-improve-your-life-in-the-next-100-days.html
- 2019 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures Report
- New studies rank Alzheimer’s as the third leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer – The Washington Post.
- Alzheimer’s Disease Prevention: Steps to Take; healthline.com/health/alzheimers-disease-prevention.