In recent times, there has been increasing attention on the prevention and treatment of cognitive decline as the prevalence of dementia and other related cognitive disorders is expected to undergo a drastic change with a rapidly aging population. Estimates reveal that there were 46.8 million people worldwide living with dementia in 2015 and this number will reach 131.5 million in 2050. Therefore, a number of approaches have been experimented and designed to maintain and strengthen the cognitive capacity with advancing age.
Cognitive changes with aging
Some cognitive abilities show at least a small decline with advanced age. Most persons experience measurable cognitive loss by age 60, with widespread declines by age 75. Normal cognitive aging includes deterioration of cognitive processes that affect daily functional abilities of older adults such as driving, administration of medicine, etc. However, some researchers have created a pattern of age-related changes in cognition in terms of crystallized and fluid intelligence. Fluid intelligence is the ability to analyze new problems without acquired knowledge (problem-solving, reasoning, learning and working). Crystallized intelligence is the ability to use acquired skills and knowledge through experience (vocabulary, reading comprehension, and general knowledge). Studies have established that age-related patterns of decline in specific intellectual abilities vary among individuals and the fluid intelligence declines earlier than crystallized abilities.
Lifestyle interventions to maintain cognition
Studies on improving cognition in old age have established that certain cognitive activities such as intellectual engagement, leisure pursuits, and education are associated with successful maintenance of cognition with age. Also, nutrition and diet, physical fitness and social activities also have proved to form a link with consistent cognitive function.
Cognitive activity interventions
People engaging in cognitive-stimulating occupations are proved to maintain higher cognitive function with aging. Mental activities requiring independent decision-making and thought processes have been correlated with higher performance on memory, fluency and verbal activities in aging. Therefore, targeted cognitive interventions have been launched to proffer a solution to prevent age-related cognitive decline. They include memory training interventions, stress management, and health promotion and they are proven to improve the performance on cognitive tasks including recognition, recall, spatial orientation and visual search. Memory training interventions also help to overcome the intimate relationship between depression and cognitive dysfunction.
Nutritional and diet interventions
Clinical trials focusing on nutrition and cognitive functions have explored nutrition as a potent factor in improving cognition in older adults. Food supplements rich in fish oil (Omega 3 supplements), Phosphatidylserine, Glyceryl Phosphorylcholine, Acetyl-L-Carnitine and Huperzine A are proven to improve cognitive function in aging subjects with cognitive impairments.
Physical activity interventions
The brain consists of approximately 90 billion neurons interconnected by about 1000 trillion of synaptic junctions. Regular stimulation of these synaptic pathways by engaging in physical activities helps to improve our ability to learn by enhancing synaptic plasticity and initiating the process of neurogenesis in some parts of the brain. A Meta-analysis which examined the impact of physical fitness on cognition reported high performance in executing higher level functions like planning and abstraction in older people. Evidence supports that physical exercises increase the levels of a brain-derived neurotrophic factor which stimulates genesis of new neurons, survival of existing neurons and synaptic adaptation.
Social activity interventions
Several studies suggest that having a large circle of friends and other personal relationships and regular engagement in social or productive activities is associated with low risk of cognitive decline. Hence, social integration enhanced by involving in volunteer activity and group-oriented activities is a better method of cognitive preservation of your brain as you age.
Harada, C. N., Natelson Love, M. C., & Triebel, K. (2013). Normal Cognitive Aging. Clinics in Geriatric Medicine, 29(4), 737–752 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4015335/
Ngandu, T., Lehtisalo, J., Solomon, A., Levälahti, E., Ahtiluoto, S., & Antikainen, R. et al. (2015). A 2 year multidomain intervention of diet, exercise, cognitive training, and vascular risk monitoring versus control to prevent cognitive decline in at-risk elderly people (FINGER): a randomised controlled trial. The Lancet, 385(9984), 2255-2263. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/s0140-6736(15)60461-5