Cognitive Decline: the aging brain

Do you struggle for words or forget why you came into a room?

If so, your might be dealing with a condition called mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Up to 10% of individuals over 65 years of age deal with this daily.  Of greater concern is that 65% of these individuals may develop Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia.

Age related changes in the brain are normal. Many thinking abilities peak at the age of 30 then subtly decline as age increases.  Normal changes include a slowness in thinking, difficulty sustaining attention, difficulties with multitasking holding information in mind, and word finding. Normal age-related declines are subtle and mostly affect speed of thinking and attention control.

With abnormal brain aging, declines in cognition are more severe and may include other thinking abilities such as rapid forgetfulness, difficulty navigating, challenges with solving common problems, losing the ability to organize tasks, expressing oneself in conversation or behavior outside of social norms. This may also include motor symptoms such as tripping falling or tremors.

Cognitive Decline risk factors:

  • Head injury history
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Midlife obesity
  • Smoking
  • Depression
  • Little or no physical activity
  • Little or no mental activity
  • Sleeping less than 7 to 8 hours per night

In a study release earlier in 2021, researchers analyzed 25 years of data on more than 14,000 people in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study. When compared to people who never sustained a head injury, one previous head injury upped dementia risk by 25%. A history of two or more head injuries was associated with more than two times the risk of developing dementia 25 years later, the study showed. Almost 10% of all dementia cases in the study were related to history of head injury after age 45, and this elevated risk was seen for all types of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.

Although a cognitive decline is normal, this can be slowed or even reversed through a variety of interventions such as:

  • Regular moderately high exercise
  • Controlling cardiovascular risk factors
  • A healthy diet with fresh fruit and vegetables whole grains and lean proteins
  • Participating in mentally and social stimulating activities

Another important step, just like an annual physical check up, is a brain health check up in which signs of cognitive decline can be assessed, tracked and best of all intervened.  A good brain health assessment should include an evaluation of concentration and focus, decision making, memory, visuospatial awareness, motor function and balance, as well as assessing sleep, activity levels and overall mood.

Although Cognitive decline is a natural part of aging, you can take steps now to see where you currently stand and then plan a positive intervention, which is key to a healthy and enjoyable life.

Written by

Efan Gonsalves, PT, AT (retired) Clinical Director- Markham



Orthopedic Rehabilitation
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