Vail Daily column: Brain health and memory loss | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Brain health and memory loss

Studies are being published indicating that age-related memory loss may be mitigated with activities such as reading, cultural activities and continuing to keep yourself challenged with ongoing education.

Simply put, the brain is a muscle. Use it or lose it.

Our memory naturally wanes as we advance in age. There are many contributing factors for memory loss, some are preventable and others are not. Research has found that one of the factors we have a little influence on is brain shrinkage. While the brain will naturally lose mass with age, studies show that by keeping the brain physically and mentally active lends to a slowdown of the degenerative process. This is known as brain maintenance.

CAUSES OF COGNITIVE DECLINE

Reduced blood flow caused by narrowing of the arteries and a decrease in the growth of new capillaries are also major contributing factors to cognitive decline. Two parts of the brain that are particularly affected are the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus. These parts of the brain are important for learning, memory, planning and other complex mental activities.

Cardiovascular disease, chronic stress, and high cholesterol all lend themselves to reducing blood and oxygen flow within the brain. This is why many physicians and researchers support finding that exercise, a healthy diet and mentally challenging activities are beneficial in maintaining a healthy brain.

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IMPROVING MEMORY, BRAIN FUNCTION

The following are tips to improve brain function and memory:

• Moderate exercise. Many senior are physically unable to take part in extended exercise sessions. However, simply walking around at least once day can increase oxygen flow to the brain and help seniors keep a sharp mind.

• Cook meals together. Cooking a meal at home is good for more than your stomach. The act of cooking requires planning, adapting and discernment, which in turn gives the mind a workout.

• Spend time creating homemade art. Seniors who start a crafting hobby have been shown to keep a sharp mind well into old age. Constructing a picture frame out of popsicle sticks or forming a pot out of clay are examples of simple manual tasks that also encourages seniors to use their creative abilities.

• Play brain­teaser puzzles. Games such as Sudoku and crossword puzzles are popular activities to pass the time at airports, but they also serve as a foundation for maintaining mental sharpness in seniors. These games challenge the mathematical abilities of the brain and memory function, helping older adults exercise their mental muscles.

• Get social. Play bridge, cards or Rummikub. That's right, playing such games has been proven to help seniors sharpen their minds. Researchers have found that these mentally stimulating games have positive effects on the intellectual and social well­being of older adults. Researchers say that mental stimulation of this sort leads to more positive social interactions and build self-esteem, which in turn decreases the risk of depression and other related illnesses.

While such protective factors offer no guarantee against cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease, they do offer hope and are a good guide for impeding cognitive decline.

Don't wait until the signs of cognitive decline appear. Be proactive. Good brain health is something that needs to be thought about as a lifetime commitment. Stimulating the neurochemistry of the brain helps it stay healthy.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. Contact him at http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns or 970-328-5526.