Dear Dr. Levister: My mother died from Alzheimer’s disease last year. I’m 51 I’ve noticed I’m more forgetful. Should I be worried? B.W.
Dear B.W.: As our biological clock ticks, most of us notice changes in the way our brain functions. These changes are a normal part of aging and are usually not a cause for worry, although serious cognitive difficulties should be assessed by a doctor.
Age chips away at our brain cells, just as it chips away at other cells of our body. But the wear and tear differs from individual to individual. Some of us live to a ripe old age with little evidence of cognitive decline; others experience early mental decline or the onset of diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Some brain changes are inevitable with aging; others may be avoidable. Factors such as stress, lifestyle and diet can greatly affect how our brain weathers the years.
Ever notice how people who smoke cigarettes or drink too much alcohol look older than their age? Lonely people, seriously obese people, poor people, individuals who live in stressful environments or have stressful jobs are highly vulnerable to chronic depression, are typically less healthy and are at great risk for early brain decline.
A study published in a recent issue of the journal Neurology underscores the importance of stress in age associated mental decline. The study suggests that chronic mental stress and poor physical health can greatly speed up cellular aging and hasten brain cell death.
Building on these studies, researchers have found that individuals who maintain a healthy lifestyle, engage in regular physical and mental activity and reduce stress stave off early widespread brain cell death and mental decline.
That’s why it’s important to take steps to reduce risk factors that can lead to brain aging and to undertake measures that can help keep your brain active, alert and healthy.
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