The venerable Institute of Medicine came out with a report this week on cognitive aging (yes, that means you…) and a few things that can help avert the inevitable. The panel’s No. 1 recommendation? “Be physically active.” Enough said.
To be clear, “cognitive aging is not a disease,” the report notes. “Instead, it is a process that occurs in every individual, beginning at birth and continuing throughout the life span.”
That process impacts the brain like no other body part, the authors say. And while the extent and quality of cognitive aging (read: decline) varies greatly, many older men and women will experience problems related to the speed at which they process information, the ability to problem-solve and make decisions and, of course, memory. (Lost keys, anyone?)
Putting a little silver lining on things, the IOM news release quotes the chairman of the committee, Dan G. Blazer, the J.P. Gibbons Professor of Psychiatry Emeritus at Duke University Medical Center, saying that “…wisdom and knowledge can increase with age, while memory and attention can decline.”
So what should we do about our aging brains? The report is clear:
· Be physically active.
· Reduce and manage cardiovascular disease risk factors, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and smoking.
· Regularly discuss and review health conditions and medications that might influence cognitive health with a health care professional. A number of medications can have a negative effect — temporary or long term –on cognitive function when used alone or in combination with other medication.
The committee also identifies additional actions for which there is some scientific evidence to suggest positive effects on cognitive health:
· Be socially and intellectually active, and continually seek opportunities to learn.
· Get adequate sleep and seek professional treatment for sleep disorders, if needed.
· Take steps to avoid a sudden acute decline in cognitive function, known as delirium, associated with medications or hospitalizations.
· Carefully evaluate products advertised to consumers to improve cognitive health, such as medications, nutritional supplements, and cognitive training.