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Understanding the Aging Brain

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The brain is a complex organ, and like the rest of our bodily organs, it ages over time. When working with aging adults and their families, it is important to understand the basics of brain aging. This can be especially helpful in distinguishing normal brain aging verses abnormal signs of aging.

Over time, researchers have learned that the human brain maintains plasticity into the advanced years. Brain plasticity refers to the brain’s ability to learn new things, adapt to changes, grow new connections and repair broken ones.

Older adults may notice changes, but not all of the changes are of concern. It is normal to have some cognitive decline with age, including changes in the speed of thinking, the ability to control attention, trouble multitasking and occasional forgetfulness. Abnormal brain aging on the other hand, includes declines in cognition that are more severe. These changes may include a reduced ability to solve common problems, difficulty expressing oneself in conversation or behaving outside of social norms. Other early signs and symptoms of abnormal brain aging are listed below.

Signs and Symptoms of Abnormal Brain Aging:

  • Getting lost in familiar places
  • Repetitive questioning
  • Odd or inappropriate behaviors
  • Forgetfulness of recent events
  • Repeated falls or loss of balance
  • Personality changes
  • Decline in planning and organization
  • Changes in diet/eating habits
  • Changes in hygiene
  • Increased apathy
  • Changes in language abilities, including comprehension

These abnormalities in brain aging are pathological in nature and can lead to an aging brain disease or neurological disorders. Below are some of the most common aging brain disease with links for more information.

While there is no cure or way to prevent these diseases, there are ways individuals can reduce their risk of developing cognitive impairment. It is never too early to engage in risk reduction brain health habits. Research is revealing that some of these aging brain diseases, like Alzheimer’s disease, can start to develop years and even decades before symptoms are noticeable. Ways to reduce the risk of aging brain diseases are listed below.

12 Tips for a Healthy Brain to Reduce Risk of Aging Brain Diseases:

  • Keep up with regular doctor visits
  • Manage chronic conditions
  • Exercise regularly
  • Develop healthy sleep hygiene
  • Eat a balanced diet (MIND diet or Mediterranean Diet)
  • Engage the brain
  • Socialize
  • Protect the head
  • Reduce stress
  • Seek treatment for mental health issues
  • Stay away from (or quit) smoking
  • Limit alcohol intake

One fun and easy way to start developing healthy habits is to sign up for the 30 day brain health challenge. You can also find more brain health related resources through Women’s Brain Health Initiative.

If you are interested in a deeper dive on the aging brain, watch this two-part webinar series and even earn a free Continuing Education (CE) credit*.

For additional information about brain health visit https://healthybrains.org/ or brainhealth.gov.

For more Alzheimer’s and dementia caregiving tips and support, visit www.HelpForAlzheimersFamilies.com. To learn more about how home care services can assist those with Alzheimer’s or other aging brain diseases and to find a local home care provider visit www.HomeInstead.com.

 

*CE credits are only available for 60 days following the live webinar event.

Last revised: August 8, 2019

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