Aging affects all parts of the body, including internal organs and the brain. It is important for seniors to understand the difference between “cognitive aging” a natural aging process, and the onset of diseases such as Alzheimer’s or dementia. We gain the wisdom that can comes from living life experiences, while experiencing some level of decline in memory, attention and the ability to quickly process incoming stimuli.
Seniors or even a middle-aged people begin to worry when it becomes more difficult to remember a word, a name or other piece of data that would have come immediately to mind during our earlier years. This is not necessarily a sign that you are in the beginning stages of a serious condition such as Alzheimer’s, but only that you are experiencing part of the natural aging process.
Alzheimer’s disease has distinct symptoms that are similar to those experienced in normal cognitive aging. The National Institute of Health lists common symptoms of the onset of the disease, which include memory loss and confusion, a lost ability to recognize friends and relatives, problems in everyday tasks that involve several steps, and the loss of the ability to learn new things. As the disease progresses, it can bring paranoia, delusions or even hallucinations. These symptoms are far more extreme than simply forgetting minor things. Alzheimer’s disease includes personality changes, which is not a symptom of cognitive aging.
Americans 60 years or older want more than anything to “stay sharp” to the end of their years – even more than their concerns about cardiovascular health or other physical conditions or illnesses. We define ourselves by our ability to communicate and interact with others more than any other aspect of our personalities.
What can you do to slow the process of cognitive aging? As we get older, it becomes far more important to take care of ourselves by eating right, getting enough rest, and exercising. Staying healthy mentally involves taking on tasks that engage your mind, and avoiding a sedentary lifestyle, such as watching TV for a large portion of the day. Join groups of like-minded individuals. Keep a journal. Do puzzles if you enjoy that type of activity. Keeping your mind active can help to stave off the natural process of cognitive aging, and keep you sharp.
Diet is a real issue for seniors. Eating out can be an unhealthy choice, as foods in restaurants may taste good, but is often loaded with sodium and fats that are unhealthy to consume on a regular basis. Make your diet a priority, and if you aren’t a cook, find a meal service that offers healthy options rather than those tasty, fat-laden meals that are so attractive. Focus on consuming fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and good proteins, and avoid fast food and sugar. You may find you experience a resurgence of energy, and an overall feeling of health and wellbeing by taking this one step to better health.
Too many medications can leave an older person feeling groggy. Some medications are prescribed to address a physical situation that could be resolved by lifestyle changes. Rather than relying on medications, if diet and exercise can resolve a condition, move in that direction and get off as many medications as you can. These drugs hard on the body and have many side effects.
Enjoy your later years by focusing on taking care of yourself, and making the most of the opportunities that this phase of life brings.