Cognitive decline can range from mild cognitive impairment to dementia, which can leave a person completely incapable of taking proper care of themselves. Maintaining strong cognitive health — the ability to clearly think, learn, and remember — is an important component for performing everyday activities.
Regular exercise and a healthy diet are among the easiest ways to keep the brain sharp at any age. But what are some of the things that can speed up cognitive decline and brain aging in an individual?
Here’s a look at four risk factors for cognitive decline that may surprise you.
High blood pressure more than just bad for your heart
High blood pressure typically means trouble for a patient’s heart. Research shows that blood pressure issues, at any age, can also create danger for a patient’s brain as well. Even a slightly elevated blood pressure for any period of time can lead to faster cognitive decline in adults.
A study of more than 7,000 adults in Brazil, with an average age of 59, looked at participants’ blood pressure readings and cognitive health for nearly four years. Researchers also examined the thinking and reasoning skills of each person through tests on their memory, speech quality, and alertness.
The results reveal patients dealing with systolic blood pressure between 121 and 139 mmHg or diastolic blood pressure between 81 and 89 mmHg, and not taking medication, experience faster declines in their cognitive abilities. This change occurs in both middle-aged and older patients.
Moreover, findings reveal the speed of this decline has no link to the length of time a patient has hypertension. This means having high blood pressure, even for a short period of time, can impact the speed at which someone’s mental sharpness declines. Adults who don’t control their blood pressure through antihypertensive medication see faster rates of cognitive impairment.
READ MORE: Having high blood pressure for any length of time can speed up cognitive decline
Early retirement speeds up cognitive decline?
It’s hard to think of an early retirement as anything other than a positive. Who wouldn’t want to trade in their suit and tie for a pair of beach shorts? While retiring ahead of schedule may be easier on the body, a new study finds that it may not be so beneficial for the mind. Early retirement can accelerate the usual rate of cognitive decline among the elderly.
The study analyzed participants in China’s new rural pension scheme (NRPS), as well as China’s most recent Retirement Longitudinal Survey (CHARLS). CHARLS is a representative national survey of China’s population over the age of 45 that tests respondents regarding mental cognition, episodic memory, and overall mental wellbeing. Researchers sought to investigate the effects of early retirement and pension benefits on individual cognition among adults over the age of 60.
Findings reveal that individuals receiving pension benefits were experiencing much more rapid mental decline than their counterparts still on the workforce. The most prominent indicator of mental decline among retirees was delayed recall, a trait widely considered to be an accurate predictor of dementia.
The study is hopeful that the findings will be considered by older adults when mulling retirement, but perhaps more importantly, the study also hopes that policy makers in developing countries take note while drawing up new pension plans. Instituting social get-togethers and work shops for recent retirees to help lessen the predicted decline in social interaction and critical thinking that often comes along with retirement are suggested to be helpful.
READ MORE: If You Rest, You Rust? Study Finds Early Retirement May Speed Up Cognitive Decline
Smog exposure in childhood can haunt you in old age
Air pollution is a particularly scary public health hazard. For the people who live in highly smoggy areas, it can be virtually impossible to avoid exposure. One study finds that exposure to air pollution as a child can cause more severe cognitive decline in old age.
The study tested the thinking skills and intelligence of over 500 adults, all around 70 years-old. Participants were given the exact same test they had once completed decades ago around the age of 11. Then, the seniors took that same test again on two more occasions; at 76 years-old and again at 79 years-old. The study examined public records to determine smog levels in the areas where each person had grown up.
Series of statistical models were created upon using all of the data. This was done to determine the relationship between air pollution exposure as a child and elderly thinking skills.
The results indicate that childhood exposure to smog has a small, but noticeable impact on cognitive changes between ages 11 and 70. It clearly shows the effect that exposure to air pollution very early in life could have on the brain many decades later. This poses as the first step towards understanding the harmful effects of air pollution on the brain and could help reduce the risk of dementia for future generations.
READ MORE: Smog exposure as a child linked to cognitive decline in old age
Bad for the brain too: Belly fat
Hope to hold on to a strong memory in your elder years? Do your best to maintain a healthy figure as you age. A new study finds that a larger waistline is linked to greater cognitive decline in adults over 60.
The study analyzed data on nearly 5,200 elderly Irish adults who participated in a national study that examined various health and lifestyle factors. Findings ultimately reveal that one’s waist-to-hip ratio may represent their level of cognitive function.
Results suggest that, the more belly fat an individual has, the more likely they’ll show some form of cognitive impairment — such as worsened memory, poor judgment, trouble thinking — once they hit their 60s. Also noting that overweight people perform worse on memory and visuospatial tests.
The study believes that the cognitive decline is the result of an increased secretion of inflammatory markers by belly fat, which has been linked to a higher risk of impaired cognition. However, having a high body mass index (BMI) doesn’t necessarily mean a person is more likely to have a poorer memory because the figure doesn’t differentiate between fat and muscle.
READ MORE: Wider Waistline Linked To Weaker Memory, Greater Cognitive Decline In Older Adults
Should these risk factors for cognitive decline lead you to make certain dietary, exercise, or lifestyle changes, be sure to