Cognitive Health (Healthy Aging Learning Series) Health Coaching Session, May 2019
Cognitive health is the ability to clearly think, learn, and remember. Cognitive change as a normal process of aging has been well documented in the scientific literature. Some cognitive abilities, such as vocabulary, are resilient to brain aging and may even improve with age. Other abilities, such as conceptual reasoning, memory, and processing speed, decline gradually over time. Concepts of crystallized and fluid intelligence are used to describe patterns of cognitive change over the lifespan. Crystallized intelligence refers to skills, ability, and knowledge that is overlearned, well-practiced, and familiar. Vocabulary and general knowledge are examples of crystallized abilities. Crystallized abilities remain stable or gradually improve through the sixth and seventh decades of life. Because crystallized intelligence is due to accumulation of information based on one’s life experiences, older adults tend to perform better at tasks requiring this type of intelligence when compared to younger adults. In contrast, fluid intelligence refers to abilities involving problem-solving and reasoning about things that are less familiar and are independent of what one has learned. Fluid cognition includes a person’s innate ability to process and learn new information, solve problems, and attend to and manipulate one’s environment. Executive function, processing speed, memory, and psychomotor ability are considered fluid cognitive domains. Many fluid cognitive abilities, especially psychomotor ability and processing speed, peak in the third decade of life and then decline per year.
Cognitive ability can be divided into specific domains, such as
Processing speed - Many of the cognitive changes reported in healthy older adults are the result of slowed processing speed in cognitive activities and the speed of motor responses.
Attention - A more noticeable age effect is seen on more complex attention tasks, such as selective (the ability to focus on specific information in the environment while ignoring irrelevant information) and divided attention (the ability to focus on multiple tasks simultaneously).
Memory - Age-related memory changes may be related to slowed processing speed, reduced ability to ignore irrelevant information, and decreased use of strategies to improve learning and memory.
Language - Language is a complex cognitive domain composed of both crystallized and fluid cognitive abilities. Overall language ability remains intact with aging. However, Visual confrontation naming, or the ability to see a common object and name it, remains about the same until age 70, and then declines in subsequent years. Verbal fluency, which is the ability to perform a word search and generate words for a certain category (e.g., letters, animal names) in a certain amount of time, also shows decline with aging.
Visuospatial abilities - This group of cognitive functions involves the ability to understand space in two and three dimensions. Visual construction skills, which involves the ability to put together individual parts to make a coherent whole (for example, assembling furniture from a box of parts) declines over time. In contrast, visuospatial abilities remain intact. These abilities include object perception, the ability to recognize familiar objects such as household items or faces, and spatial perception, the ability to appreciate the physical location of objects either alone or in relation to other objects.
Executive functioning/reasoning - Executive functioning refers to capacities that allow a person to successfully engage in independent, appropriate, purposive, and self-serving behavior. This includes a wide range of cognitive abilities such as the ability to self-monitor, plan, organize, reason, be mentally flexible, and problem-solve. Research has shown that concept formation, abstraction, and mental flexibility decline with age, especially after age 70.
Cognitive Reserve and Retraining Certain activities may prevent age-associated cognitive decline is the theory of cognitive reserve. Passive reserve refers to genetically determined characteristics such as brain volume and the number of neurons and synapses present. Active reserve refers to the brain’s potential for plasticity and reorganization in neural processing, allowing it to compensate for neuropathologic changes.
Your brain has the ability to learn and grow as you age — a process called brain plasticity — but for it to do so, you have to train it on a regular basis. Practicing a new and challenging activity in daily life is a good bet for building and maintaining cognitive skills.
What can you do for your cognitive health?
Be Physically active - Research has shown that regular physical exercise is one way to improve cognitive functions like memory recall, problem solving, concentration, and attention to detail.
Balance and stability. Studies have shown that people who can’t stand on one leg for more than 20 seconds are more likely to have damage to small blood vessels in the brain, such as tiny bleeds or ministrokes. Balance exercises, including tai chi and yoga can improve stability.
Keep your mind active - Much research has found that creative outlets like painting and other art forms, learning an instrument, doing expressive or autobiographical writing, and learning a language also can improve cognitive function.
Challenge your brain with wide range of interests. Introducing a new activity or increasing your skill set and/or knowledge stimulates the brain, engages your brain to learn something new or reach a new level, to improve learning function with focused attention and effective information processing.
Get out of your comfort zone for complexity. A complex activity not only strikes a match of excitement, but forces your brain to work on specific thought processes like problem solving and creative thinking.
Practice (music instruments, games, skills, etc) makes permanent. Devote how much time you can, but be committed and consistent. Practice regularity can make a greatest impact, regardless of the level of achievements. The practice is more important than get to the Carnegie Hall.
Stay connected – social interactions with other people are important. Your brain gets a workout when you are being mindful and socially active. Travel, cultural events, and classes are great for meeting new people with common interests.
A healthy brain is built on a healthy body. Managing existing health conditions and enhance healthy lifestyle are foundations for cognitive fitness. Eat a plant-based diet, get enough quality sleep, and reduce toxic stress are essential parts of brain health.
Safety first. It is important to detect safety issues early. If you or your loved ones experiencing any cognitive difficulties in driving, don’t risk it.
It will become increasingly important to understand the cognitive changes that accompany aging, both normal and pathologic. Dementia and mild cognitive impairment are common and even those who do not have these conditions may experience subtle cognitive changes associated with aging. These normal cognitive changes are important to understand because they can affect an older adult’s day to day function.
There is significant variability in age-related cognitive changes from person to person. Some of these variability can be attributed to genetic differences, medical illness, psycho-social factors, and sensory deficits such as vision and hearing impairment, may accelerate age-related cognitive decline. A individualized coaching program can help you achieving your personal cognitive health goals. Click firstname.lastname@example.org to book a free call and learn more.
Summary: Cognitive health is the ability to clearly think, learn, and remember. Cognitive changes, such as conceptual reasoning, memory, and processing speed, decline gradually over time as part of normal aging process. Normal age-related cognitive change does not impair a person’s ability to perform daily activities. It will become increasingly important to understand the cognitive changes that accompany aging, both normal and pathologic. Dementia and mild cognitive impairment are common. There is significant variability in age-related cognitive changes from person to person. The good news is that your brain has the ability to learn and grow as you age under active training on a regular basis. Practicing a new and challenging activity in daily life is a good bet for building and maintaining cognitive skills.
Disclaimer: This information is for educational and informational purposes only. It is not medical advice. Consult your healthcare professional for personal conditions.
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