It is said in jest all too often: “I’m having a senior moment.” That assertion can indeed be a point of humor when trying to recall someone’s name or a specific word amidst conversation.
But occasionally, these so-called “senior moments” may not be so funny. In fact, they can be downright embarrassing when forgetting the name of a long-time associate or crucial information in the midst of a business meeting.
Memory and other brain health issues – some more serious than others – are often one of the symptoms of aging. That’s because the brain area involved with memory, called the hippocampus, actually shrinks with age, causing memory loss.
Environmental factors may be connected to racial disparities in cognitive issues. The National Institute of Health reports that African-Americans and Hispanics have a higher prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease compared to non-Hispanic Whites, according to some studies. The NIH says this disparity may be connected to “environmental factors, such as less education or income, poorer diets, or reduced access to health care.”
The good news is that, depending on the severity, many memory and other brain-health issues can be managed or even reversed. To increase brain health, here’s a synopsis of the recommendations outlined in an AARP.org article titled, Age-Proof Your Brain: Ten Ways to Keep Your Mind Fit Forever:
1. Exercise: Increasing exercise levels can reduce the risk of dementia by 30 to 40 percent, says Art Kramer, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Illinois. He says even other forms of dementia, like Alzheimer’s disease, can be decreased by working out because exercise appears to reverse the shrinking of the hippocampus.
2. Weight lift: Researchers at University of British Columbia at Vancouver says weight training and resistance training exercises appear to increase the growth of the IGF1 gene, which nourishes and protects nerve cells in the brain.
3. Learn new skills: Because learning spurs the growth of new brain cells, doctors believe learning new games or skills like internet surfing can help improve memory.
4. Decrease stress: Stress reducers such as meditation, prayer, relaxation, exercise, and even a vacation could reduce the stress hormone cortisol and reverse damage to your brain health, according to Harvard researchers.
6. Spice up your food: Black pepper, cinnamon, oregano, basil, parsley, ginger and vanilla are high in antioxidants, which studies reveal can help build brainpower.
7. Pursue your purpose: A study by Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center revealed that people with clear focuses on personal or professional goals were less likely to develop Alzheimer’s for at least seven years.
8. Rev up your social life: A 15-year study of older people from Sweden's Karolinska Institute shows a rich social life may protect against dementia by providing emotional and mental stimulation.
9. Reduce risk of other diseases: Researchers say diabetes, obesity and hypertension are sometimes associated with dementia, including a doubled risk for Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia in people with diabetes.
10. Get your vitamins: Nutrient deficiencies can affect brain vitality, according to Rush Medical, which found that older adults with vitamin B12 deficiencies had smaller brains and scored lowest on tests measuring thinking, reasoning and memory.
For brain health exercises and additional information, visit the AARP Brain Health Center online.
Edna Kane-Williams is vice-president of Multicultural Engagement at AARP.