Aging occurs whether we like it or not, whether we’re ready for it or not, and it happens to everyone. How well we age though is something that is affected by many factors. Why are certain 80-year old seniors able to outsmart younger family members and be in great physical condition? Yet a 65-year old senior may be struggling with driving, memory and making decisions. Changes in cognitive health and abilities is uneven and depends on many lifelong interactions.
Environmental factors seem to have a negative effect on cognitive health. Let’s look at what studies have shown:
As people age, they find that they have diminished speed of processing information. They also have a reduced volume of information they can take in at the same time. And they have a slower rate of new learning abilities. Most young people can attest to that last one when trying to teach grandparents how to use their new cell phone.
Other changes in cognitive abilities are not a result of normal aging. Dementia and its many symptoms require assisted care by family or professionals.
Studies have shown that environmental factors do play a role in cognitive health. In fact, there are multiple interacting environmental influences throughout our lifetime which can affect our brains. Can we contribute to the decline of our mental abilities? Yes, yes we can. The truth is some of these influences we cannot control, but others we can.
Out Of Our Control
Exposure to pesticides, pharmaceuticals, lead, air pollution, aluminum, PCBs, toxic chemical exposure, and especially occupational exposure when we were young are situations over which we had little control. All of these environmental hazards can increase the risk of developing cognitive issues in later life.
What We Can Control
Other factors are within our control. Aging is progressive so if you are 35, 60, or older you can change some of these negative influences. Lifestyle choices can be changed and improved.
High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes are among diseases that compromise brain functioning. Keep them in check to reduce your risks.
Quit smoking and lower your alcohol consumption (if not altogether). Smoking and drinking excessively can put you at higher risk for developing dementia.
Get more exercise. Even walking twice a week can make a difference in later life.
Take courses to keep your mind alert and curious. Read more.
Find ways to be more social and avoid social isolation. Your leisure activities can be a benefit. Loneliness and anxiety can negatively affect brain function.
We can all make changes in our lifestyle to counteract and balance out the environmental factors we can’t change.
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