Cognitive health refers to the overall function and health of our brain which includes memory, language, intuition, thinking, understanding, judgment, decision making and the learning ability. Problem in cognitive health results, deterioration in mental function or dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease. It normally develops late in life. As a person ages, a marked change in cognitive health is observed. Though, it is not a disease, it is a lifelong process that affects every one of us, we must be aware of cognitive health care for elders for the sake of our elders and for our future.
Few more components of cognitive health includes:
• Motor Skills – Motor function indicates movement i.e. how well you can make movements and control them.
• Sensory Skills – It includes how perfectly you feel and respond to sensations of pain, temperature, pressure and even to touch.
• Emotional Skills – It includes how well you understand and respond to emotions.
Age-Related Cognitive Health Problems
The great fear with the cognitive health decline are mostly seen among elders. Even with mild cognitive issues, people can have greater problems with memory and brain functioning. In such cases, day-to-day activity is not seen affected. When cognitive declines and starts affecting normal activities and a person’s ability to function on a daily basis, it is termed as dementia. There are several types of dementia that affect the elderly, but Alzheimer’s disease is the most common among them. This mostly starts with memory loss and lapses in judgment, but it tends to worsen with the time. Other forms of age-related dementia include vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal dementia and Huntington’s disease. Stroke is another common cause of cognitive health problems in the elderly. Cognitive disorders can also occur because of brain injuries like side effects of medicines or a vitamin B12 deficiency.
Treatments for cognitive health problems may vary, depending on its cause. For example, depression and anxiety are treated with a medication and counseling. On the other hand, Alzheimer’s cannot be cured. Though there are medications available that may delay its arrival. There is also some evidence showing that individuals were able to prevent Alzheimer’s later in life by saying NO to smoking, eating healthy diet and exercising earlier in life.
Causes of cognitive health problems
Cognitive health problems or cognitive impairment can some suddenly or gradually. Also, it can be a temporary problem or more permanent. It all depends on its cause. Proper attention is required for cognitive health care for elders. Common causes of cognitive health problem or cognitive impairment includes:
• Metabolic imbalances - This includes the abnormal levels of blood sodium, calcium or glucose; kidney or liver’s improper function can result to some metabolic imbalances further affecting the function of brain.
• Hormonal problem – Hormonal problem especially in thyroid hormones, results imbalances in estrogen. Along with it, some sex hormones can also affect cognitive functions.
• Deficiencies of vitamins and other nutrients – Functioning of brain gets badly affected by deficiency of vitamin B12, B vitamins and folate.
• Side effects of Medications – Sedatives, anticholinergic medications and tranquilizers are most common cause of cognitive impairment.
• Delirium – It is a worst mental function that arises by any type of serious illness. It is mostly seen in elders who are hospitalized and can also occur due to infections or other health problems in elders who are not hospitalized even.
• Psychiatric ailment – Most psychiatric issues arises with problems in memory, thinking or concentration. Depression and anxiety are most common condition in elders.
• Extreme intake of substance like alcohol, illicit drugs and prescribed drugs can result to cognitive impairment.
• Injury in brain neurons – Injury in brain neurons means damage caused problematic blood vessels like strokes, cerebral small vessel disease. Brain injury is also related with temporary or long lasting cognitive impairment.
• Neurodegenerative condition – This condition slowly damages and finally kills the neurons. It can cause mild cognitive health problem and finally to dementia. Most common neurodegenerative condition includes Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease Lewy body disease and frontotemporal degeneration.
• Several infections - certain chronic or acute infections can affect brain cells directly. If it is caused by any outside infection, such as pneumonia or a urinary tract infection, this would be taken as delirium. Research is in process to find the cognitive effects of toxins people may be exposed to, like air pollutants, heavy metals, drinking contaminated water, pesticides, and others.
Awareness for Cognitive Health care for elders
Several adults in 2014 shared the concern about their health, a survey based on this concluded that maintaining brain health was on their top priority list. Thus, a medical institute started focusing on prevention and intervention opportunities, educating health care practitioners and raising public awareness of cognitive health care. The areas in action include:
• Conducting a cognitive assessment to detect cognitive health problem.
• Advertising the benefits of physical exercise, social engagement and proper quality sleep.
• Informing the risk factors of using excess alcohol, smoking and unhealthy diet.
• Minimizing the use of inappropriate medications.
• Highlighting the benefits of reducing cardiovascular risks like diabetes and hypertension.
• Identifying an individual at risk and institute’s preventive strategies.
Only physical activity can protect our cognitive health, is it so?
There are several people who believe that physical activity like walking, works great for cognitive health. Moreover, they are not sure about the intensity, frequency and duration of walking required to get actual benefit for cognitive health. Few more physical activities they discuss about, such as Tai Chi, housekeeping, gardening etc., but strengthening training is missing. It is proven that strength training has numerous benefits for older adults as it work great in improving bone density and decreased risk of falling.
People also believe a link between diet and cognitive health but still they are unsure about it. Also, they are confused about a healthy diet. Some people focus on moderation and portion sized diet and other concentrate on food that should be avoided. Some adults prefer to follow that fruits, vegetables and lean meats are good for brain health, but avoid any specific dietary change. Many people also expressed their confusion over the role of dietary supplements.
Well, the fact that several findings concluded that maintaining a healthy lifestyle like physical activity, healthy diet, social involvement, participating in some enjoyable activities, positive mental attitude, spiritual activities etc. works great in improving cognitive health.
Steps needed to be taken for cognitive health care for elders
Effects of aging are common and happen to everyone. The reason is: as we get older, so do our brains. Recent studies have shown certain activities can benefit and improve our cognitive health as we age, including memory loss, thinking skills and many more. Ways to keep our brain active, healthy and always young are:
- Keep moving – Exercise, weight training and strengthening training have many benefits as we age. Apart from relieving stress and lowering the cholesterol level and blood pressure, physical exercise is also beneficial for our cognitive health. Actually, physical exercise increases capillary development in the brain which mean increased blood flow brings more nutrients and oxygen to brain, resulting in the development of new brain cells i.e. Neurons. Increase in neuron activity makes you feel smart, sharp and also delays the development of dementia.
• Proper rest - After challenging your mind with puzzles or social engagements, it is necessary to leave everything and give your brain a rest from a daily busy schedule. It is recommended to take frequent sleep, meditation, or even a simple walk through nature. It allows our brain to reboot and recharge. Try to keep your brain properly rested by 7 to 9 hours of sleep at night and plan for creative mindful activities during day time.
• Healthy diet – The diet you consume has a direct reaction to your cognitive behavior. That is the reason why it’s important to consume a healthy diet, i.e. diet which is high in brain-healthy nutrients, like omega-3 fatty acids, powerful antioxidants, and vitamins B, C, D, and E. All these nutrients are essential for brain health. They promote synaptic plasticity, reducing dangerous inflammation and promoting the development of neurons.
• Keep your mind busy with challenges – Similar to physical exercise, brain exercise is also important for cognitive health. Brain is also a muscle, my friend. Just like your body, your brain needs daily exercise to keep fit. Wondering how? Pick activities that require you to keep your mind engaged. Activities can be reading, doing crossword and solving jigsaw puzzles etc. These activities are exercise for your brain and it sharpen our brain by stimulating individual brain cells and the communication among them. You can also try for skills, like drawing, painting, knitting and many more of your interest. Even soothing music has been found to stimulate the brain and improve cognitive health.
- Social gathering - A lively active social network and a group of likeminded people who care about you can do wonders for your mood, but you may be surprised to know that socializing can have powerful effects on the cognitive healthy too. A recent study found that adults with larger social networks and daily social contact are in a lower risk of developing dementia. On the other side, adults who feel lonely, or have no social networks and minimal social contact, are in a higher risk of developing dementia. This means that socialization has a direct correlation to cognitive health. Try joining a social club, exercising class, or maintaining regular visits and phone calls with close family and friends to maintain your social connections for improving your cognitive health.
• Cognitive stimulation - Cognitive training in older adults can have a beneficial effect on cognitive function in our body. Very few evidence is available for people with mild cognitive impairment, and at present there is a little evidence relating to the long-term impact on the prevention or delay of dementia.
• Elders themselves need to be careful for their health – Get frequent recommended health screening and keep control in diabetes, blood pressure, depression and cholesterol. Question your health expert about medicines which are suggested should not have adversely effect on memory, sleep or other brain functions. Avoid getting injured especially in brain area.
• Efforts should be made on implementing the policies to reduce smoking and alcohol consumption among the people of all ages as this is beneficial for our healthy future.
• Physical activity programs can be organized to get socialize and be mentally active.
Memory loss and many more can be a frustrating side effect to aging, but by practicing basic cognitive health care tips for elders into your daily life, you can easily keep your brain active and enjoy your life with cognitive health. It is evident that it’s ‘never too late’ to indulge and change lifestyle and bring health outcomes in the older adult population. The health and social care system has been successful in increasing longevity, but now it should be applied to make sure that those longer years are cognitive healthy.
Cognitive health is related to function of brain such as memory, thinking, motor skills, sensory skills, emotional skills, memory, language, intuition, understanding and many more. Treatments for cognitive health problems depends on its cause, like depression and anxiety are treated with a medication and counseling while Alzheimer’s cannot be cured. Though it can be delayed through medications. There is also some evidence showing that individuals were able to prevent cognitive problems later in life by following certain basic healthy habits.