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The aging brain

Staying mentally strong

Just as physical activity keeps your body strong, mental activity can help keep your mind engaged and challenged as you age. Some research suggests that activities that engage your brain might offer some protection against cognitive decline. Here are some activities you might try:

  • Learning to play a musical instrument
  • Playing Scrabble or doing crossword puzzles
  • Starting a new hobby, such as crafts, painting, biking, or bird-watching
  • Staying informed about what’s going on in the world
  • Reading

Also, some research suggests that physical activity, especially at high levels, may protect against cognitive decline.

Keep in mind the positive effects of aging on the brain. For instance, people can acquire new skills as they grow older. Middle-aged adults typically do better on tests involving knowledge and information than younger adults do. Vocabulary and word use improve with age. And although perhaps not “measurable,” a lifetime of building knowledge and real-world decision-making and experience results in wisdom that is rare in youth.

When forgetting isn’t normal

Although memory lapses are usually minor, serious memory loss and confusion are not a normal part of aging. Memory loss along with big changes in personality and behavior may mean there is a problem. Signs of a syndrome called dementia — the most common form is Alzheimer’s disease — include symptoms such as:

  • Asking the same questions over and over again
  • Forgetting how to use everyday objects or words
  • Becoming lost in familiar places
  • Being unable to follow directions
  • Neglecting personal safety, hygiene, and nutrition

These symptoms can also be caused by other more minor medical conditions, infections, nutrition problems, minor head injuries, bad reactions to medicine, or other physical problems that occur in later life. It’s important to see a doctor right away to get a correct diagnosis and possibly fix the problem if it is not dementia.

Article courtesy of the Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, womenshealth.gov.

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