Cognitive Care for the Elderly
Though cognitive decline is a normal part of ageing, there are certain measures that can address it and even delay it.
A natural part of ageing involves a gradual decline of one’s cognitive abilities. While the degree may vary from person to person, it can be distressing to face problems in short-term memory, attention span, problem solving, or other such problems, and an impairment in cognitive health could also impact motor and emotional functioning. Some broad symptoms of cognitive decline include memory loss, difficulty in concentrating or planning and decision making, and relative slowness in executing tasks. Of course, these will manifest differently in different individuals depending on their history and if there are any other underlying conditions.
Though slight cognitive impairment can be caused by general age-related factors, there is growing research supporting that intervention in the form of lifestyle changes can make a positive difference in elderly people and delay its onset. Of course, one should consult a healthcare practitioner to determine if this cognitive impairment is a sign of another condition and not age-related, and then take measures accordingly.
Remaining physically active throughout one’s life may reduce risks for cognitive decline, and even Alzheimer’s and dementia. The WHO carried out a study to explore the link and saw a small positive effect on cognitive functions. Physical activity increases blood flow to and oxygen levels in the brain, and about 150 minutes of aerobic physical activity is the recommended amount. This can include walking, gardening, or any exercise form. Taking it one step further, a study by the International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity saw that ‘Combined PA + CA [physical activity + cognitive activity] should be promoted as a modality for preventing as well as treating cognitive decline in older adults.’
A healthy and balanced diet throughout one’s life can help prevent noncommunicable diseases and aids in development. The Mediterranean diet, specifically, has been the most studied one when it comes to cognitive function. Broadly, the diet plan emphasises a high intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, cereals, beans and unsaturated fats like olive oil. Less meat and dairy is consumed, but this of course will depend on one’s own specific dietary requirements. The research backing this diet claims its inflammation-reducing nature and its effect on other parts of the body, like the cardiovascular system, could directly and indirectly promote cognitive function and prevent decline.
Improved cognitive activity can be achieved through cognitive stimulation, which could involve participating in activities that are meant to challenge one’s cognitive functioning or by participating in normal day-to-day activities. The latter could involve family members and/or caregivers ensuring that their ageing loved ones have unfettered access to orientation information such as the day, date, weather as well as the news. There are various activities that can keep one’s mind engaged, and they can range from reading to learning new skills or volunteering. Since these are mentally stimulating, they could help the brain continue to adapt as age-related changes keep occurring.
A study by The Lancet on dementia prevention presented a model approach to risk factors associated with dementia, and it took a ‘life-course approach’ to it—this means that the factors and their relation to dementia change across one’s life. Among these risk factors was social isolation during late life, therefore adequate social engagement could play a role in preventing cognitive impairment. In fact, isolation has also been linked with hypertension, heart disease and depression, which is why community support and social participation should be encouraged and nurtured throughout one’s life to ensure well-being. Engaging in such activities, and they can be as simple as going for regular walks with a friend or volunteering and finding a hobby group, can boost one’s mood and may improve cognitive function.
There are certain health conditions that could impact the brain as well, such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, obesity, and more. Seeking treatment for all of these is of vital importance, and is getting regular check-ups.
Hearing impairment can have consequent effects on one’s functional ability and overall well-being, and the reduced ability to communicate can lead to feelings of frustration and isolation. While research is limited, these factors together can increase one’s risk of cognitive decline, and so there should be more awareness about the widespread impact of hearing loss and regular screenings should be conducted.
Reduced alcohol and tobacco consumption
Consuming too much alcohol can have a direct effect on the brain, and lead to changes in memory formation, coordination and balance. Reducing consumption or cutting it altogether can make a difference to one’s cognitive performance. The same applies to smoking, which also increases one’s risk of getting a stroke or a heart attack.
At Seva At Home, we produce a wealth of free health information to help elders live healthier, happier lives. This has been produced by independent research carried out by the Seva At Home team. This information is not a replacement for medical advice. Please consult your physician for relevant medical diagnosis and advice.
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