The brain is a complex organ, and like the rest of our bodily organs, it ages over time. When working with aging adults and their families, it is important to understand the basics of brain aging. This can be especially helpful in distinguishing normal brain aging verses abnormal signs of aging.
Over time, researchers have learned that the human brain maintains plasticity into the advanced years. Brain plasticity refers to the brain’s ability to learn new things, adapt to changes, grow new connections and repair broken ones.
Older adults may notice changes, but not all of the changes are of concern. It is normal to have some cognitive decline with age, including changes in the speed of thinking, the ability to control attention, trouble multitasking and occasional forgetfulness. Abnormal brain aging on the other hand, includes declines in cognition that are more severe. These changes may include a reduced ability to solve common problems, difficulty expressing oneself in conversation or behaving outside of social norms. Other early signs and symptoms of abnormal brain aging are listed below.
Signs and symptoms of abnormal brain aging:
• Getting lost in familiar places
• Repetitive questioning
• Odd or inappropriate behaviors
• Forgetfulness of recent events
• Repeated falls or loss of balance
• Personality changes
• Decline in planning and organization
• Changes in diet/eating habits
• Changes in hygiene
• Increased apathy
Changes in language abilities, including comprehension
These abnormalities in brain aging are pathological in nature and can lead to an aging brain disease or neurological disorders.
Below are some of the most common aging brain disease.
• Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)
• Alzheimer's disease
• Frontotemporal dementia
• Vascular dementia
• Lewy Body dementia
• Parkinson's disease
While there is no cure or ways to prevent these diseases, there are ways individuals can reduce their risk of developing cognitive impairment. It is never too early to engage in risk reduction brain health habits. Research is revealing that some of these aging brain diseases, like Alzheimer’s disease, can start to develop years and even decades before symptoms are noticeable. Ways to reduce the risk of aging brain diseases are listed below.
12 Tips for a healthy brain to reduce risk of aging brain diseases:
• Keep up with regular doctor visits
• Manage chronic conditions
• Exercise regularly
• Develop healthy sleep hygiene
• Eat a balanced diet (MIND diet or Mediterranean Diet)
• Engage the brain
• Protect the head
• Reduce stress
• Seek treatment for mental health issues
• Stay away from (or quit) smoking
• Limit alcohol intake
One fun and easy way to start developing healthy habits is to sign up for the 30 day brain health challenge at: www.bebrainpowerful.org You can also find more brain health related resources through Women’s Brain Health Initiative located atwww.womensbrainhealth.org
If you are interested in a deeper dive on the aging brain, watch this two-part webinar series and even earn a free Continuing Education (CE) credit*
Simply register online at www.caregiverstress.com to find the two-part series titled
The Aging Brain: Brain Basics
The Aging Brain: Aging Brain Diseases
For additional information about brain health visit https://healthybrains.org/ or brainhealth.gov.
For more Alzheimer’s and dementia caregiving tips and support, visit www.HelpForAlzheimersFamilies.com To learn more about how home care services can assist those with Alzheimer’s or other aging brain diseases feel free to phone my office, we can help you navigate this option. Home Instead is here to offer education free of charge. It is our way to support our community in their efforts to best navigate memory care.
*CE credits are only available for 60 days following the live webinar event.
Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her own two parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, www.homeinstead.com/sonoma to educate and encourage seniors & caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern? She’d love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime.