Aging and Brain Health

Poor brain health can have profound implications for an aging individual’s health and wellbeing.

Aging and brain health go hand in hand. Today, millions of Americans are experiencing longer lives than ever before.  In fact, the percentage of Americans age 65 and older has more than tripled in the last 100 years, and now represents 13 percent of the population.  There has been a shift from that of medically prolonging life to ensuring that a prolonged life is actually worth living.

Researchers are working the problem from several angles, and some of the most practical work has come from the field of memory and cognition.  It is more about cognitive capacity than any physical disability that most often determines whether people can attain extreme old age while remaining active.

What is Brain Health?

While standardized, widely accepted definitions of brain health (also called cognitive health) have yet to be adopted, most experts agree that the components of healthy cognitive functioning include things like language, thought, memory, and executive function (the ability to plan and carry out tasks).  Cognitive health can be viewed along a continuum from optimal functioning to mild cognitive impairment all the way to severe dementia.

Poor brain health can have profound implications for an individual’s health and wellbeing.  Older adults and others experiencing cognitive decline may be unable to care for themselves or handle the necessary activities of daily living.  Limitations with the ability to effectively manage medications and existing medical conditions are particular concerns when an individual is experiencing cognitive decline or dementia.  By recognizing, treating or even preventing cognitive decline, the lives of many older adults can be improved.

Healthy Brain Initiative

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Alzheimer’s Association have partnered to create the Healthy Brain Initiative, a national public road map to maintaining cognitive health.  For the last several years, new research has emerged that shows there are many things we can do to keep our minds healthy.  Many of the same things we do to keep our bodies healthy contribute to healthy minds. Physical activity and a diet that helps lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure also helps to keep our minds healthy by allowing our bodies to deliver oxygen-rich blood to our brains.  In addition, activities that stimulate our minds, like crossword puzzles, reading, writing, and learning new things, help to keep our brains healthy.  Staying engaged with the people around us and in our communities plays an equally important role in staying mentally fit.

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