Cognitive impairment includes everything from mild forgetfulness to debilitating dementia. It can affect motor functions, sensory ability and emotional regulation. The most serious form of cognitive decline is dementia. Approximately 1 to 3% of seniors develop dementia each year, and people with specific genetic mutations are more likely to experience significant changes in brain function as they age. Some health factors also increase the risk of cognitive decline for seniors, so controlling health conditions may help stave off memory problems.
Our Bright Minds program is a collection of Brightview community offerings that are designed to improve the overall brain health and cognitive function of our residents. With Bright Minds, we focus on creating and maintaining healthy lifestyle habits – from increased exercise, social interaction, and healthy eating to managing chronic health conditions to keep you active, and your brain healthy.
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, causes changes in blood vessels that could affect the brain. Seniors with hypertension have an increased risk of strokes, which cut off the blood flow to the brain and may impair normal cognitive functions. The risk for high blood pressure increases as you age, but this is especially true for women.
The relationship between cholesterol levels and brain health is complex. Older adults with high cholesterol are at a higher risk for other health problems that can affect the brain. In particular, high cholesterol can lead to cardiovascular disease, which could affect the brain's blood supply. As seniors mature beyond age 85, having high levels of HDL, known as good cholesterol, could protect against dementia. This may have something to do with the way the brain uses and stores cholesterol, yet scientists are still unsure of the exact reasons. LDL, also known as bad cholesterol, isn't associated with any protective activity in the brain, but keeping LDL low is still recommended at all ages.
Being overweight or obese can increase the risk of developing dementia, especially for seniors who have been carrying that excess weight for a while. One study found that being overweight may have a protective effect on memory function at first for people who are otherwise healthy, but after being obese for over 10 years, the risk of developing dementia rises by about 17%. Being overweight also makes you more likely to develop diabetes, which is another risk factor for cognitive decline.
Sleep disturbances may put seniors at greater risk for cognitive impairment. Obstructive sleep apnea, a type of breathing problem that disrupts sleep, is linked to a buildup of plaques in the brain associated with Alzheimer's disease. Sleep difficulties might also be linked to other health issues, including obesity.
The ability to hear things clearly might not seem to be related to mental acuity and memory loss, but untreated hearing loss could put you at risk of these types of brain problems. An eight-year study of over 10,000 older individuals found that people with mild hearing loss were 30% more likely to develop cognitive problems, and people with moderate hearing loss had an increased risk of about 42%. Hearing aids may lower the risk, though, so seniors experiencing hearing loss should talk to a doctor about this possibility.
Managing Health Factors to Prevent Cognitive Decline
Regular exercise, reducing overall fat intake and eliminating trans fats from the diet can help reduce some of the health risks associated with increased memory loss and cognitive functioning. Avoiding high sodium foods might improve hypertension symptoms, and increasing your intake of monounsaturated fats, the kind found in olive oil and nuts, could help boost brain health for seniors. Medication is also available to treat some of the health factors that increase your risk of cognitive decline. In particular, treatment for high blood pressure and high cholesterol often involves a combination of lifestyle changes and medication.
If you smoke or drink, quitting or reducing your intake of alcohol and tobacco is another way to improve the health factors associated with cognitive issues. In particular, sleep apnea and heart disease are both linked to tobacco and alcohol use.
When it comes to finding support for memory problems, Brightview Senior Living has communities specifically dedicated to assisting older adults with cognitive issues, such as dementia. Fill out the form below to learn more about our Wellspring Village memory care neighborhoods, which can be found in eight states.