When we think of memory and ageing, images of misplacing the keys or forgetting an acquaintance’s name typically spring to mind. Some forgetfulness is normal as we get older, but with a little tender love and care there are plenty of ways to keep the mind sharp as we age.
“There’s good evidence that you can reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s by about 33 per cent if you’re starting out from being cognitively normal,” Dr Michael Woodward, Director of Aged Care Research and Memory Clinic at Austin Health, says. “It’s likely that the same approaches can also be used to reduce your rate of decline if you already have the early stages of Alzheimer’s.”
One of the first steps is making sure you’re getting enough exercise. Physical activity has an array of health benefits – including keeping the mind sharp. Older adults who move more with either daily exercise or simple physical activities such as housework can preserve more of their memory skills. Research, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found higher levels of daily movement, especially aerobic exercise, are linked to better thinking and memory skills and study participants were less likely to develop Alzheimer’s if they increased their daily physical activity.
“Physical exercise possibly improves blood flow to the brain, but it may have other beneficial effects, too,” Woodward says. “The mechanism of action is not well understood. The most important thing is that the benefits are understood.”
To see improvements, Woodward recommends at least 20 minutes of moderate intensity exercise, five times a week. This includes brisk walking, water aerobics, dancing, gardening or bike riding. There are also easy ways of making exercise fun and less like a chore.
“If you’re not keen on physical exercise, do it on a cross trainer in front of your favourite TV show,” Woodward says. “The TV show is obviously not helping but the exercise while you’re watching it is. My wife does that.”
Eating for better brain health can also help keep the mind sharp for longer. Instead of focusing on one food, incorporate a rich variety of foods that contain antioxidants (leafy green vegetables, tomatoes, berries, onions and garlic), omega-3 fatty acids (fish such as salmon, cod and tuna) and B-vitamins (wholegrains, eggs, legumes, seeds and citrus fruits). Many of these foods are found in the Mediterranean diet.
“The Mediterranean diet as a whole has been associated with improved cognition or at least a lower risk of declining cognition,” Woodward says.
While studies show the Mediterranean diet can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease by years by reducing the build-up of amyloid beta accumulation (protein plaques in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease), drinking a 125-millilitre bottle of Souvenaid® daily is an effective way for patients living with early-stage Alzheimer’s to delay cognitive decline.
Souvenaid® is a food for special medical purposes that nutritionally supports memory loss in early Alzheimer’s disease. Each bottle of Souvenaid® contains a unique combination of nutrients which helps to support the growth of brain connections known as synapses.
Keeping mentally stimulated by completing brain exercises that stretch and challenge the mind is also important for brain health and helps to produce new synapses – nerve cell junctions that help deliver electrical and chemical messages to different parts of the brain. Choose brain training activities that stimulate the mind at high levels and pick activities you’re going to enjoy.
“If you’re a letters person, try doing Sudokus. If you’re a numbers person, try doing crosswords,” Woodward recommends. “Try learning a foreign language or learning to play a new instrument.”
Researchers from the University of Sydney recently analysed 20 years of research and found older adults with mild cognitive impairment who engaged in computer-based training improved their cognition, memory, and learning capabilities, as well as their mood and self-perceived quality of life. Meanwhile, researchers from the University of Exeter in the UK say over-50s who regularly complete word puzzles or crosswords could have better brain function in their later years.
Social engagement has similar effects and regularly engaging with friends and family can also keep the mind sharp. Joining a political party, an environmental group, neighbourhood watch, volunteering services or other community-based groups is associated with better cognitive function past the age of 50, according to research published in the BMC Psychology Journal.
Some people choose to join chess or card clubs or sports clubs where they combine the social aspect with a physical or mental one.
“If you tick all those boxes, there’s a very good chance you’re going to the grave without any significant memory problems, without significant Alzheimer’s,” Woodward says. “That can’t be promised but you’re doing all you can and even if you start developing the early stages of Alzheimer’s, you need to continue on with those activities.”
It’s best to start interventions as early as possible and not to think of them as tasks or boring chores.
“There are ways that you can make each of these things not just a chore, not just a, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve got to do this today because I don’t want to get Alzheimer’s’, but something you actually look forward to.”
Souvenaid® is a food for special medical purposes for the dietary management of early Alzheimer’s disease and must be used under medical supervision. Content created in consultation with dementia expert Associate Professor Michael Woodward.
Important information: The information provided on this website is of a general nature and information purposes only. It does not take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. It is not personalised health advice and must not be relied upon as such. Before making any decisions about your health or changes to medication, diet and exercise routines you should determine whether the information is appropriate in terms of your particular circumstances and seek advice from a medical professional.
Souvenaid® nutritionally supports memory loss in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease (must be used under medical supervision).
If you are concerned about your cognitive health, please see your Healthcare Professional.