Some aspects of getting older are inevitable, and brain aging is one of them. No matter how diligently you care for your brain, a certain amount of change in cognitive function (e.g., struggling to multitask or recall someone’s name) is normal and expected.
However, the line between typical “senior moments” and signs of serious cognitive decline can be somewhat subjective and difficult to define. This intermediate zone between normal brain aging and dementia is called mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and it can be a cause for concern—once signs of MCI begin to crop up, they can progress into dementia (typically in the form of Alzheimer’s disease) at an annual rate of 8% to 15%.
Dementia affects approximately 24 million people1 worldwide and its global prevalence is expected to quadruple by the year 2050. What’s more, almost two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are female. Arguably, taking care of our brains is more critical today than ever before (especially for women).
Risk factors for cognitive decline.
There are many factors—both genetic and epigenetic—that can increase your risk of developing dementia, including:
- APOE gene variation
- Down syndrome
- Type 2 diabetes
- High blood pressure
- Midlife obesity
- Lack of mental activity
- Lack of physical activity
- Unhealthy diet
- Poor sleep health
- Insufficient vitamin D levels
12 serious signs of cognitive decline.
If you’re worried about your or your loved one’s brain longevity, keep an eye out for these signs of MCI and dementia.
- Forgetting recent events: While losing your keys, blanking on the name of a restaurant you love, or struggling to remember the title of a book you recently read is normal for people in all stages of life, forgetting about an event that happened in the recent past is cause for concern
- Repetitive questioning: Asking you the same questions, especially within the same conversation
- Difficulty planning or problem-solving: Struggling to complete familiar tasks—such as paying bills, using your cell phone, or making a recipe you’ve used for years
- Confusing times and places: Losing track of dates (beyond the normal “oh my goodness, how is it Friday already?!”) and/or trouble remembering or understanding an event coming up
- Lack of visual and spatial awareness: Misjudging distance, struggling to keep your balance, tripping, or dropping or spilling things more than usual
- Mixing up or struggling to remember common words: Difficulty following and participating in conversations or recalling familiar words (such as “clock,” “stove,” or “hat”)
- Misplacing items & finding them in random places: Think putting your car keys in the freezer or your reading glasses in the microwave
- Poor judgment or discernment: Falling for scams, struggling to manage money, or having difficulty taking care of a pet properly
- Withdrawing from social activities: Not wanting to attend church, work, sports games, or other highly social events due to lack of interest or difficulty keeping up with what’s happening around you
- Distinct changes in mood or personality: Getting easily irritated or upset by things that are common and familiar, or being fearful or suspicious of people or activities
- Getting lost in familiar places: Struggling to navigate places you frequently visit (and have for years)—such as the post office, grocery store, pharmacy, or your neighborhood
- Having trouble taking care of yourself: Finding it difficult to maintain proper hygiene or a healthy diet
How to maintain cognitive function & brain longevity.
There are things you can do to help prevent cognitive decline, but the sooner you implement brain-healthy habits the better! Once dementia reaches a certain stage, it can progress quickly, making intervention less effective.
Here are some healthy habits to incorporate into your daily routine to bolster cognitive well-being:
- Visit your doctor regularly to monitor changes in your brain health
- Take a high-quality memory supplement with science-backed ingredients (such as citicoline—a nootropic bioactive that has been shown to improve cognitive impairment)
- Maintain a healthy body composition
- Manage your blood pressure & blood sugar levels
- Engage in physical activity on a regular basis
- Eat a balanced, nutrient-dense diet full of brain-healthy foods
- Get adequate, restful sleep
- Stay socially active—find purpose in community events and activities
- Avoid smoking
Cognitive decline can be confusing, overwhelming, and downright scary for all those involved. If a loved one is showing signs of MCI or dementia, encourage them to see a health care provider as soon as possible—getting checked early on can make a world of difference in progression and treatment options.
Morgan Chamberlain is a supplement editor at mindbodygreen. She graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Science degree in magazine journalism and a minor in nutrition. Chamberlain believes in taking small steps to improve your well-being—whether that means eating more plant-based foods, checking in with a therapist weekly, or spending quality time with your closest friends. When she isn’t typing away furiously at her keyboard, you can find her cooking in the kitchen, hanging outside, or doing a vinyasa flow.