The CDC’s Health Brain Initiative began in 2006 to address the cognitive decline that occurs with aging. The Initiative lists physical exercise as a major activity to help prevent mental decline as we age. As an aging Baby Boomer, I use walking as part of my daily exercise and inject extra steps into my activities of daily living. I use a pedometer to measure reaching my daily goal of 5000 steps. When grocery shopping, I walk every isle to increase my number of steps. I also park the car a distance from the entrance to stores.
The University of Southern California researchers found that it is not the loss of neurons or the development of tangles and plagues occurring in Alzheimer’s disease causing symptoms, but the increase in inflammatory processes. Inflammatory proteins produce amyloid that interferes with memory. The researchers further found that the loss of the chemical dopamine slows the function of the brain for cognition or processing of information. According to Brainist.com, exercise causes the release of the chemicals, dopamine and serotonin in the brain. Therefore, physical exercise reverses the slowing of dopamine release that occurs in Alzheimer’s disease.
Swedish researchers found that it matters what you do in old age and not your performance in life along the way as reported in World Health. Education and a demanding job fail to prevent memory loss, but keeping socially, mentally and physically stimulated during your retirement years promotes brain maintenance and an absence of brain pathology that causes memory decline.
I find belonging to senior citizen groups and volunteering for a non-profit organization keeps me socially fit and engaged. I prefer the lung association and the human society for volunteering, but so many community organizations could benefit from senior citizen involvement ranging from health organizations such as the heart association, diabetes association, cerebral palsy and kidney foundation to human service organizations such as big brothers and sisters, homeless shelters and food banks to name a few. This social involvement provides a dual benefit to the aging person and to the community organization.
Of course, a third avenue to keep the brain mentally aware involves attention-engaging tasks to break out of a daily routine. I prefer taking one university class a semester to rev-up my brain cells, but other aging individuals might engage in such activities as games, puzzles, art, gardening or music. My eight-seven-year-old mother prefers crossword puzzles and different embroidering or knitting projects for her great-grandchildren. According to Oregon Health and Science University, keeping the brain engaged in regular, vigorous use and new activities strengthens the synapses between brain cells in the memory area of the brain.
So many activities exist to stimulate the brain cells, though; the decision rests with each individual. The aging person decides their own fate.