How do you know what is considered “normal” regarding brain function — and what might indicate a condition like dementia? James Evans, MD, psychiatrist and medical director of behavioral health services at Emerson Hospital, shares these signs to watch for:
- Unusual forgetfulness
- Change in personality
- Altered decision-making behaviors
- Falling or unsteady mobility
“All are things to keep an eye out for, or other types of decline in function that indicate a loved one's regular abilities may be changing,” Dr. Evans says.
When to Seek Help
If any of these signs are observed, the first step is to visit their primary care physician. It is important to rule out any medical reasons for an altered mental state. If all checks out, the next step is to investigate more closely what is occurring in the brain. Dr. Evans describes neuropsychological testing as the “gold standard” of cognitive assessment. “This testing is very accurate and will pinpoint if there is an issue.”
Keep Your Brain Active
By incorporating different habits and behaviors into daily life, you can help prevent decline from taking hold. The following strategies can help:
- Exercise your brain. Play strategic games, work on puzzles, or engage in reading or discussion groups.
- Exercise your body. Choose activities that boost cardiovascular health.
- Stay connected. Get together with friends and family, attend cultural events, and travel.
- Practice good sleep habits. The brain restores itself during the “deep sleep” stages.
- Manage stress. Take up meditation or yoga, or use calming smartphone apps.
Addressing Cognitive Decline in the Elderly
Listen to Dr. Evans discuss cognitive decline in the elderly — including causes, prevention, and the latest treatments — in this Health Works Here podcast.
Foods That Can Boost Your Memory
Following a Mediterranean-style diet and avoiding overly processed foods can help protect brain function. Some foods may increase awareness and mental sharpness. Here are a few:
Blueberries are powerful little antioxidants. They protect the brain against oxidative stress and contain memory-boosting agents like anthocyanin and flavonoids to enhance spatial memory and learning. They improve cognitive function and significantly slow down brain aging.
Broccoli is packed with antioxidants and vitamin K. Some studies link vitamin K intake to better memory skills. It is also rich in compounds that may reduce oxidative stress and lower the risk of neurodegenerative diseases.
Oily fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines are great sources of protein and rich in omega-3 fatty acids. A diet with higher levels of these fats has been linked to lower dementia and stroke risks and slower mental decline; plus, they may play a vital role in enhancing memory, especially as we get older.
Dark chocolate has antioxidant properties to combat cognitive decline, as well as the natural stimulant of caffeine to enhance focus. Dark chocolate can help improve memory, alertness, and clarity by increasing blood flow to the brain.