How to reduce the risk of cognitive decline with age

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Jne Valokuvaus/Shutterstock

by Hayley Wright, Coventry University
Originally published in The Conversation, August 25, 2017

Research into how we can keep our brains healthy as we age has gained momentum in recent years. There is now an increased focus on the changes that we can makes to our health and lifestyle, which may prevent dementia. Here are some things that research has shown reduce a person’s risk of cognitive decline with age.

Sex

Our latest study shows that having more sex is associated with better cognitive function.

We recruited 28 men and 45 women, aged between 50 and 83, to take part in our study. We found that those who had sex weekly scored on average 2% higher on some cognitive tests than those who had sex monthly, and 4% higher than those who never had sex. These results were shown on tests of verbal fluency (such as naming as many animals as possible in one minute) and visuo-spatial abilities (drawing familiar objects from memory or copying complex pictures).

The association could be the result of the heightened levels of intimacy and companionship inherent in sexual relationships (that is, an increase in social contact), or there could be a purely biological explanation – where regular surges in arousal and release of sex-related hormones (such as oxytocin and dopamine) could be affecting brain function. Of course, as with the age-old nature/nurture debate, our answer could lie in a combination of the social and biological impact of sexual activity.

Could it be sex hormones that keep our brains young?
nd3000/Shutterstock

Sleep

Many studies show that getting enough sleep is important for preventing cognitive decline. A study of cognitively healthy people aged 65 and over showed that daytime napping is associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline at two-year and ten-year follow-ups. Conversely, excessive daytime sleepiness and getting less than six-and-a-half hours of sleep at night are associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline at ten-year follow-up.

A more recent study showed that longer sleep duration and poorer sleep quality are both associated with poorer memory in men and women aged 65 and older. These studies all support the advice that we should be getting around eight hours of sleep a night. Sleep disturbance in early adulthood is associated with poorer cognitive function in later life, which just goes to shows how sleep can affect our brain health across the lifespan.

Active leisure

New studies show that increased participation in social, mental and physical activities is linked to a slower rate of cognitive decline in older adults. This research shows a “dose-response” relationship, where the more activities we do, the slower the rate of decline becomes.

The following activities are good examples of the types of mental, social and physical leisure activities that are good for your brain:

● Mental: puzzles, games and quizzes, reading or even adding up your shopping bill in your head as you go around the supermarket.

● Social: visiting friends and family, regular phone or email conversations with people, going to the cinema or doing some volunteer work.

● Physical: gardening, housework, walking for around 30 minutes a day, or doing chair-based or sitting exercises.

The more you do, the slower the decline.
ABO PHOTOGRAPHY/Shutterstock

Gender equality

Studies have found that women may be at reduced risk of cognitive decline, simply because of the activities they choose. There is little that we can do to change our gender, without drastic surgery of course – but we can be aware of the gender stereotypes and expectations that are all around us, which can affect the activities we engage in.

In a study of Australian older adults, there were notable gender differences in the leisure activities that people took part in. For example, women were more likely to engage in social activities, reading and volunteer work, all of which are known to slow cognitive decline. The way that cultures or societies perceive gender roles can affect people’s expectations of themselves and others. If this changes the lifestyle and leisure activities that men and women engage in, then it could well have an effect on cognitive abilities in later life.

Get an early (in life) start

When it comes to doing things to prevent cognitive decline, it’s never too early to start. Some studies show that interventions in older adults have little effect – but that could be because the participants are already suffering from cognitive decline. Studies mapping the rate of cognitive decline in older participants who do not yet have dementia or cognitive impairment, however, show promising results.

The ConversationWe all experience cognitive decline as we age. This is a natural process and occurs at different rates for everybody, much like declines in physical abilities with age. But it’s time we started addressing this much earlier in life, rather than waiting till middle age or older. It’s time for us to take a lifelong approach to keeping our brains healthy as we age.

Hayley Wright, Research Fellow, Coventry University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Smoking Marijuana Triples Risk Of High Blood Pressure Death, Study Say

CBS Local — A new study is warning that people who smoke marijuana have three times the risk of dying from high blood pressure than those who don’t use the drug. Scientists, publishing their findings in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, added that the risk of dying from hypertension grew with each year of smoking marijuana.

The study revealed that of the 1,200 people tested, those who smoked pot were 3.4 times more likely to die from hypertension. The risk of suffering a fatal blood pressure condition also went up by 1.04 times for each year the person had smoked the substance. The study did not find a link between marijuana use and dying from heart diseases or strokes.

 

Message to Democrats: Get on Board With Medicare For All or Go Home

For universal healthcare to become a reality, “it’s going to take a movement of movements, and it’s going to take the American people making it toxic for our elected officials not to get on board.”

 

Medicare for All “is the only real answer,” said Max Fine, one of the original architects of Medicare. (Photo: Molly Adams/Flickr/cc)

Amid surging support for Medicare for All at the grassroots—which can be seen both in recent polls and at anti-Trumpcare protests, where demonstrators have brandished signs declaring “healthcare is a human right”—activists, physicians, and policy experts are imploring Democratic lawmakers to either get on board with the growing majority of their constituents, or go home.

This coming Monday, July 24, activists across the country are set to target Democratic lawmakers who have yet to sign off on Rep John Conyers’ Medicare for All legislation. The nationwide events, coordinated by the group Millions March for Medicare 4 All, are part of a growing call “for America to do for its citizens what literally every other developed nation in the world has had for decades.”

“The size of one’s bank account should never be the determining factor in whether one gets medical care,” said Beverly Cowling, the organization’s co-founder. “This is the 21st century, not the Dark Ages, and we will not stop until every American has access.”

“We’re not going to wait around for our members of Congress to say, ‘Now it’s politically feasible.'”
—Dr. Carol Paris, Physicians for a National Health Program

Responding to politicians and commentators who argue that incremental improvements to Obamacare and the implementation of a public option are the most practical steps toward universal coverage, Dr. Carol Paris, president of Physicians for a National Health Program, said in an interview on Democracy Now! that such steps amount to “creating another opportunity for the insurance companies…to put all the sickest people in the public option and keep all the healthiest young people in their plans.”

“We really need to go forward now to a national, improved Medicare for All,” Paris concluded. “And really, the bill in Congress, H.R. 676, Congressman Conyers’s bill, is the way we need to go.”

Writing for Common Dreams on Thursday, National Nurses United executive director RoseAnn DeMoro expressed a similar sentiment, arguing that the public option is “fool’s gold.”

Far from being a step on the path to universal healthcare, the public option “could undermine the movement for single-payer, discrediting a fully publicly financed system that is not a feeble adjunct to the private insurance market,” DeMoro wrote.

She went on:

The Congressional Budget Office in 2013 concluded that adding a public option would not even slice the number of uninsured, and could even encourage employers to dump workers they now cover into the ACA exchanges. With millions still either uninsured or paying exorbitant costs for care, imagine promoting a publicly financed Medicare for all to a public that sees a public option that is just as unethical as the notorious private insurers, or a financial wreck that just went belly up.

Analysts tracking public opinion on healthcare have been startled by the speed with which the debate over Trumpcare has shifted popular attitudes to the left, in the direction of Medicare for All.

As Common Dreams reported on Thursday, 62 percent of Americans—and 80 percent of Democratic voters—now believe it is “the federal government’s responsibility to make sure that all Americans have healthcare coverage.”

Indeed, as Max Fine, one of the architects of Medicare, told The Intercept‘s Zaid Jilani recently, the original intent of the program’s creators was to expand it to everyone. Medicare for all, Fine concluded, “is only real answer” to our current healthcare woes.

The job of single-payer proponents now, Dr. Paris emphasized, is to make it politically damaging for Democrats who refuse to listen to their constituents and instead remain committed to a failed for-profit system, under which millions remain uninsured.

“We’re not going to wait around for our members of Congress to say, ‘Now it’s politically feasible.’ If we wait for that, we’re going to be waiting for the rest of my life, your life, and many more lives,” Paris said.

To translate popular attitudes into public policy, Paris said, “it’s going to take a movement of movements, and it’s going to take the American people making it toxic for our elected officials not to get on board with this.”

Watch Paris’s full interview on Democracy Now!:

Beyond calling forcefully for Medicare for All during demonstrations against Trumpcare, activists are urging the creation a broader, national movement that will rally support for Medicare for All and pressure lawmakers to act.

On Tuesday, a coalition of dozens of progressive organizations announced the launch of a new initiative called “The Summer of Progress” with the goal of pressuring House Democrats to support, among other legislation, Conyers’ H.R. 676.

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