When we think of cognitive decline, we often presume that its inevitable onset begins when we reach an old age. Although cognitive decline is a relatively common occurrence, time and time again, older adults have proven their ability to maintain cognitive function – and even improve it – as they continue to age. Many older adults who live into their ninth decade retain high cognitive function, and centenarians who maintain their intellect negate the myth of the inevitability of cognitive decline.
The oldest-old have a lot to teach us about avoiding dementia. A new study by University of Pittsburgh researchers describe some lifestyle factors that are significant indicators of long-term brain health which could help prevent dementia symptoms from setting in. People who never smoked, for example, were 10x more likely to maintain their thinking skills. Those with lower blood pressure measurements also correlated with better cognitive health and having meaningful work opportunities was important in preserving cognition. The eight-year study found that the dietary supplement ginkgo biloba was ineffective in reducing the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in older people. The average age of participants was 92 years old. Several other correlates from oldest of the old can be described as well.
A recent report from the Mayo clinic concluded that “that lifelong learning, mental and physical exercise, continuing social engagement, stress reduction, and proper nutrition may be important factors in promoting cognitive vitality in aging,” (Howard M. Fillit, Robert N. Butler, et al., 2002). Some of the contributors for cognitive decline include diabetes and hypertension if not properly managed early on. Treatment-wise, this study suggests that in order to prevent cognitive decline, “various therapeutics,” such as antioxidants and anti-inflammatories can be used as individuals continue to age (Howard M. Fillit, Robert N. Butler, et al., 2002).
This information is useful for young adults and middle-aged individuals to help guide lifestyle decisions that can help prevent dementia and cognitive decline later in life – as well as for older individuals who seek to maintain cognitive vitality with aging. One of the best ways to manage many of these findings is through the development of regular habits. Check out how our patented system can help at www.maphabit.com.
Achieving and maintaining cognitive vitality with aging. Howard M. Fillit, Robert N. Butler, et al., Mayo Clinic Proceedings, v77, issue 7, July, 2002P681-696, JULY 01, 2002
Predicting resistance to amyloid-beta deposition and cognitive resilience in the oldest-old. Beth E. Snitz, Yuefang Chang, Dana L Tudorascu, Oscar L. Lopez, Brian J. Lopresti, Steven T DeKosky, Michelle C. Carlson, Ann D. Cohen, M. Ilyas Kamboh, Howard J. Aizenstein, William E. Klunk, Lewis H. Kuller, Neurology, July 22, 2020,
As the saying goes, “Variety is the spice of life,” – but how does variation impact cognition? The answer may surprise you.
The results of a recent study published in the Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, show that having more variety in activities leads to better cognitive abilities. The research measured the effects of having a variety of activities on mental acuity as a person aged. The authors of the study believe, “experiencing and learning from a variety of activities in daily life are posited to increase cognitive reserve capacity and resilience, leading to better performance on cognitively challenging tasks,” (Newman, 2020).
To conduct the study, researchers collected data from 732 individuals between 34-84 years old for eight days in a row by asking them if they had participated in any of these seven activities:
- spending time with children
- paid work
- leisure activities
- formal volunteering
- physical activity
- giving informal help to people who do not live with them
(Source: Medical News Today)
Ten years later, these researches asked the same individuals these same questions. They concluded that, “those who had the greatest activity diversity had the highest cognitive function scores,” (Newman, 2020). Moreover, this study determined that it isn’t that someone who participates in a variety of activities spends a longer time being active, but it is the actual diversity in the activities that shows cognitive improvement and preservation. To underscore their findings, the researchers also determined that those who continuously diversified their activities maintained higher cognitive scores than those who did not.
It is important to note that this study was completed before the start of the Coronavirus pandemic. In that sense, the findings are doubly important for us because they emphasize how advantageous it can be to engage in a variety of activities even under the conditions of social isolation. We are all learning that there are many ways to stay engaged both socially and intellectually while staying at home.
The use of isolation-assistive technologies like MapHabit is a good way to ensure variation of daily activity which could help extend cognitive function over time. Additionally, staying socially connected with friends and family – even if conducted through virtual means – will help us all get through this challenging time a little easier.
Newman, Tim. “Activities for Brain Health: It’s the Variety That Counts.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 22 Feb. 2020, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/activities-for-brain-health-its-the-variety-that-counts#Limitations-and-the-future.
In the current environment, people are feeling isolated not only from other people but from their old routines, those daily rituals that probably help us maintain a somewhat-constant sleep schedule. But now, there is more keeping us up at night than ever. Here are some of the best sleep strategies for falling asleep (and the biggest mistakes people make when trying to do so). You can’t force yourself to sleep, but you can position yourself to get there by using these three tips. We’ll have more sleep tips in another blog.
- One of the best strategies to help you feel tired around the same time every night is having a consistent schedule – one where you are not only getting into bed at the same time but also getting up around the same time every morning. Does this plan sound familiar? Yep. It’s called a habit. And it turns out, developing routine sleep habits are one of the most effective ways to help you sleep.
- Cut out caffeine within 10 hours of bedtime. 10 hours? Here’s why. Sleep is a biological process that happens in your brain, and one of the markers of it is a chemical called adenosine. When adenosine levels are high within your brain, you fall asleep fast. But if you still have caffeine in your system, it will actually block the action of adenosine. As a result, you don’t feel sleepy, and your brain doesn’t have the sensation of sleepiness. That’s why you should avoid caffeine within ten hours of going to bed. The specific time you should stop drinking anything that has caffeine depends on your bedtime schedule. Uh oh, there’s that habit thing again.
- Do something relaxing. Your brain won’t let you sleep if you are stressed out or excited. Give yourself a little time – 15 to 20 minutes – to disconnect before bed. This is a crucial step for falling asleep more quickly. You need to do something active for your mind to quiet down. If you sit there and tell yourself not to think about something, your brain will think about that exact thing. But if you replace it with something more neutral or even relaxing, you can outsmart your brain. If you love reading, try that; if you like cleaning, do that for 10 minutes – whatever generally makes you feel calm – and incorporate this relaxing activity consistently in your wind-down routine.
What do all these tips have in common? They are all habit-based. Our habits ground us, even in times of uncertainty and disruption. So, turn to your habits to help get you through these times. One of the best ways to work with habits and routines of course is to use the MapHabit system. You can create maps to remind you of when to stop caffeine, when to start your bedtime relaxation routine, and when to sleep and wake. And you can build in relaxation maps for mindfulness stress-reduction and other calming exercises that will help you sleep.
As uncertainty has befallen us and the world’s public health is in jeopardy, it is imperative that you not allow the feeling of insecurity to interfere too much with your mental health. During difficult times, learning to practice positivity and maintain a cheerful disposition can help prevent stress from evolving into illness.
The benefits of staying positive are scientifically backed. In fact, “many studies show that people who are more positive tend to live usually five to 10 years longer than those individuals who are less positive,” (Holmes, 2019). We know that stress can make us sick, which is why transforming our negative emotions into more positive ones can alter how our immune system works. While amid the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to improve our immunity more than ever.
An interesting study showed that “people with a more positive outlook were less likely to get sick after experimenters introduced cold viruses into their noses,” (Holmes, 2019). The results were measured in different ways; however, the study proved that those who were able to feel more positive and calmer had an increase in immune cells and a reduction of inflammation. Increasing our positive emotions can change the way we view certain things, how we react to certain things, and how we recover from certain things.
There are so many ways to practice positivity. If you are working from home during this time, taking a break to meditate, practice mindful breathing, and even journaling the things you are grateful for are great places to start. The best part about practicing positivity and enhancing your happy emotions is it’s free! Anyone and everyone can (and should) invest time in improving their outlook.
Here are ten ways to practice gratitude and positivity:
- Exercising (short walk, light yoga, dance to your favorite song)
- Being kind to yourself
- Accepting things for what they are
- Eliminating negative self-talk
- Healthy eating
- Filtering before you speak to change negative thoughts into positive ones
- Staying optimistic
- Expressing gratitude
Now more than ever, practicing positivity is a critical component to staying healthy. MapHabit provides plenty of reminders to help you stay positive throughout the day including maps for better sleep, nutrition, movement, and engagement. And having pictures, sound recordings and videos of our beloved family and friends is the perfect way to start the day positively and end the day with a smile! To learn more, visit maphabit.com.
Holmes, Bob. “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” Knowable Magazine | Annual Reviews, Annual Reviews, 14 May 2019, www.knowablemagazine.org/article/health-disease/2019/always-look-bright-side-life.
If you had to guess the top two contributors of memory loss in individuals, what would you say? Poor diet? Lack of exercise? Age? The correct answer might surprise you – it’s high blood pressure and stress. In fact, there is a direct connection between high blood pressure and cognitive impairment, as well as high stress levels and memory loss. But, don’t worry! If you have high blood pressure or are often stressed, there are very simple ways to reduce the impact on your own memory loss.
Remember back to your college days – did you ever experience a time when you were cramming for an upcoming exam and you struggled to focus? You were most likely stressed, and the stress you felt was inhibiting your mind’s ability to create long-term memories.
When we’re stressed, we have significantly more difficulty converting short-term memories to long-term memories (in other words, being able to remember things). According to Very Well Mind, “Stress can inhibit the way we form and retrieve memories and can affect how our memory works.” Stress can also interfere with our mind’s ability to form memories when it occurs prior to or during the time in which the memory is being formed.
According to a UK study of nearly 20,000 people, participants with “high diastolic blood pressure are more likely to suffer from cognitive impairment” (Medical Daily). The level of cognitive impairment varies, ranging from an individual’s ability to remember something, to learn a new task, to focus, or to make a simple decision for everyday life. High blood pressure can affect small arteries in the brain, weakening them and resulting in brain damage. While more research is needed to fully confirm the cause and effect relationship between high blood pressure and cognitive impairment, the evidence supports a direct correlation.
What Can You Do About It?
“It’s possible that by preventing or treating high blood pressure, we could potentially prevent cognitive impairment, which can be a precursor to dementia,” said study author Dr. Georgios Tsivgoulis, MD (Medical Daily). Considering the connection between blood pressure issues and memory, it is critical to seek treatment for – or make changes to improve – high blood pressure through diet changes, increased exercise, pharmaceutical therapies, or some combination thereof.
To reduce the stress in your life, we recommend adding more self care to your daily routine. Activities, like going for a walk, doing yoga, enjoying a massage and even reading a book, can help improve stress levels.
One activity that can help reduce both – practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness training can significantly reduce two of the biggest risk factors associated with impaired memory: blood pressure and stress levels in hypertensive patients (Damian McNamara).
Our mission is to improve the lives of cognitively impaired individuals. If you would like to stay up to date with the latest news surrounding Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, subscribe to the MapHabit newsletter today!
One of the most common terms regarding the brain that tends to be misunderstood is neuroplasticity. The brain is an ever-changing organ made up of nerve cells and nerve fibers. It plays a vital role in each and every one of our daily functions – and this is where neuroplasticity comes in.
Neuroplasticity is defined as the ability of the brain to constantly evolve – to form and reorganize connections, especially in response to learning or experience, or following an injury. As the name alludes, neuroplasticity also refers to the brain’s ability to be continuously molded (like plastic) by behavior, environmental stimuli, thoughts and emotions throughout one’s life.
Neuroplasticity allows the brain to adapt and rewire itself as needed and as you grow from infancy to adulthood. The brain serves as your body’s processor – “it processes sensory and motor signals in parallel,” and it has numerous neural pathways that replicate one another’s function should error arise or should damage occur (Banks, 2016). With neuroplasticity, errors or damage can be corrected by maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Our brains can be improved by employing healthy habits into our daily lives. Exercising your brain might seem intimidating, but “simply by cultivating healthy habits, we can change our brain for the better,” (Power of Positivity, 2019). Healthy brain habits include eating whole, healthy foods, staying properly hydrated, sleeping enough (and not too much!), physical activity, and exercising your brain. The best practices for exercising your brain include doing puzzles, drawing things straight from your memory (try your childhood home or your favorite meal!), and learning a new skill.
There are numerous ways you can exercise your brain to maximize its neuroplasticity. Staying diligent about your brain’s health is key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. For many years, the brain was believed to have fixed cognitive ability and intelligence, but fortunately, neuroscience research has shown that the brain can change, even in aging individuals, (Power of Positivity, 2019). So, go ahead and add another resolution to your 2020 list – to invest more in your brain’s health and harness the power of neuroplasticity.
Banks, D. (2016, April 12). What Is Brain Plasticity and Why Is It So Important?: SciTech Connect. Retrieved January 16, 2020, from http://scitechconnect.elsevier.com/what-is-brain-plasticity-why-so-important/
Michelon, P. (2018, April 9). Brain Plasticity: How learning changes your brain. Retrieved January 16, 2020, from https://sharpbrains.com/blog/2008/02/26/brain-plasticity-how-learning-changes-your-brain/
Power of Positivity. (2019, September 28). Researchers Explain 5 Habits That Can Damage Your Brain. Retrieved January 16, 2020, from https://www.powerofpositivity.com/habits-that-damage-brain/