Submitted by Holly Hall, CDP, CMP, CPASRM, Executive Director, The Village at Mercy Creek
Genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors are all thought to influence cognitive health. Some of these factors may contribute to a decline in thinking skills and the ability to perform everyday tasks such as driving, paying bills, taking medicine, and cooking.
Genetic factors are inherited from a parent to child and cannot be controlled. But many environmental and lifestyle factors can be changed or managed to reduce your risk. These factors include:
Some physical and mental health problems, such as high blood pressure or depression. Heart disease and high blood pressure—can lead to stroke and changes in blood vessels in the brain that can lead to dementia. Diabetes—damages blood vessels throughout the body, including in the brain; increases risk for stroke and heart attack; increases risk for Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias—cause a buildup of harmful proteins and other changes in the brain that lead to memory loss and other thinking problems. Stroke—can damage blood vessels in the brain and increase risk for vascular dementia. Depression—can lead to confusion or attention problems and has been linked to dementia. Delirium—shows up as an acute state of confusion, often during a hospital stay, and is associated with subsequent cognitive decline. It’s important to prevent or seek treatment for these health problems. They affect your brain as well as your body and receiving treatment for other conditions may help prevent or delay cognitive decline or thinking problems.
Brain injuries, such as those due to falls or accidents. Older adults are at higher risk of falls, car accidents, and other accidents that can cause brain injury. Alcohol and certain medicines can affect a person’s ability to drive safely and also increase the risk for accidents and brain injury. Learn about risks for falls and participate in fall prevention programs. Wear helmets and seat belts to help prevent head injuries as well. But don’t let a fear of falling keep you from being active. Overcoming this fear can help you stay active, maintain your physical health, and prevent future falls.
Some medicines, or improper use of medicines. Some drugs and combinations of medicines can affect a person’s thinking and the way the brain works. For example, certain ones can cause confusion, memory loss, hallucinations, and delusions in older adults. Medicines—even over-the-counter medicines for things like a cold—can sometimes interact with food, dietary supplements, alcohol, and other substances. Some of these interactions can affect how your brain functions. Talk with your doctor if you’re concerned that your medications may be causing cognitive problems. Do not stop taking any medications you’ve been prescribed without first talking with your health care provider.
Lack of exercise and other physical activity may increase your risk of diabetes, heart disease, depression, and stroke—all of which can harm the brain. In some studies, physical activity has been linked to improved cognitive performance and reduced risk for Alzheimer’s disease. In general, staying active is known to lower the risk of high blood pressure, stroke, and symptoms of depression, all of which in turn can improve cognitive health.
A poor diet. A number of studies link eating certain foods with keeping the brain healthy and suggest that other foods can increase health risk. For example, high-fat and high-sodium foods can lead to health problems, such as heart disease and diabetes, that can harm the brain.
Smoking is harmful to your body and your brain. It raises the risk of heart attack, stroke, and lung disease. Quitting smoking at any age can improve your health
Drinking too much alcohol affects the brain by slowing or impairing communication among brain cells. This can lead to slurred speech, fuzzy memory, drowsiness, and dizziness. Long-term effects may include changes in balance, memory, emotions, coordination, and body temperature. As people age, they may become more sensitive to alcohol’s effects. The same amount of alcohol can have a greater effect on an older person than on someone who is younger. Also, some medicines can be dangerous when mixed with alcohol.
Sleep problems can affect brain health. At any age, getting a good night’s sleep is important. Sleep problems—not getting enough sleep, sleeping poorly, and sleep disorders—can lead to trouble with memory, concentration, and other cognitive functions.
Social isolation and feeling lonely may be bad for brain health. Loneliness has been linked to higher risk for dementia, and less social activity has been linked to poorer cognitive function.
While you can’t control your genetics, you can take steps now to reduce your risks for cognitive decline and maintain your cognitive health for the future.
At the Village at Mercy Creek, they believe joy should exist in every aspect of daily life. Each day is filled with possibilities and good times because that’s how they choose to live and serve within our community. They offer Independent Living, Assisted Living, and Respite Care services designed to meet the specific, often changing needs of their residents. To tour or learn more about the Village at Mercy Creek, located at 1501 Mercy Creek Drive in Normal, call 309-268-1501 or visit www.villageatmercycreek.org.