Cognitive Benefits of Older Age

As the world waits anxiously for the outcome of today’s U.S. presidential election, many voters and bystanders may be wondering if the two men running, who are in their 70s, are cognitively and physically up to the demands of the job.  While there are some cognitive changes associated with aging such as a slight decline in the ability to multitask or pay attention, research also shows positive changes in the aging brain. 

According to the National Institute on Aging Alzheimer’s research, many studies have demonstrated that older adults possess a greater knowledge of the depth of meaning of words than younger adults and a more extensive vocabulary.   Old dogs can learn new skills, form new memories, and improve their language and vocabulary prowess.  

The way the brain processes information may change in older age. It can be more difficult to recall names or words.  But with a lifetime of experiences, there is more information to draw from, making older adults an important resource, they just may need a little more time to learn a new task.  While there may be physiological changes in the brain associated with aging such as decreased blood flow or communication between neurons, neuroplasticity allows the brain to adapt and change to overcome challenges.

Don’t forget the Super Agers. People in their 80s and 90s and beyond who have the ability to perform as well as adults 20 to 30 years their junior.  Although it’s not yet clear to researchers why some older adults stay mentally sharp even in very old age, studies that seek to understand this phenomenon could lead to therapies to help prevent or reverse age-related cognitive decline. 

To protect your cognitive health in older age, it’s important to stay physically active, eat a healthy diet, keep your mind active, and control any chronic health conditions like high blood pressure properly.  Staying socially connected with others and finding ways to manage stress will also help older adults preserve physical and brain health, allowing seniors to remain independent longer and function better.

Take time today to turn off the news report, enjoy some time outside; maybe go for a long walk with a neighbor or your dog, and just breathe.  Or if the weather isn’t cooperating, turn off your devices, steep a pot of tea, and find a cozy corner to read, knit, woodwork, or whatever gives you peace and helps to silence all the inner chatter.