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January 10, 2012 > How Does Aging Affect Your Brain?

How Does Aging Affect Your Brain?

Washington Hospital Seminar Offers Tips for Staying Mentally Active

The thought of losing mental capacity during the aging process is unsettling if not frightening for many people. While most of us won't have to face dementia, the fact is our brains are aging right along with the rest of our bodies. But like other parts of the body, there are steps you can take to slow down the aging process and preserve brain function well into old age.

"You know you need to eat right, exercise, and take good care of your body if you want to stay healthy as you age, and it's the same for your brain," said Donna Schempp, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and geriatric consultant for Family Caregiver Alliance. "Of all the organs in the body, the brain uses the most oxygen and nutrition."

Schempp will offer some insights into the brain during an upcoming seminar titled "How Does Aging Affect Your Brain?" The free seminar is scheduled for Tuesday, January 17, from 1 to 3 p.m., at the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, located at 2500 Mowry Avenue (Washington West) in Fremont. You can register online at www.whhs.com or call (800) 963-7070 for more information.

Schempp will talk about some of the natural changes that take place in the brain as well as some of the warning signs of dementia. She will also provide tips for preserving brain function as you age.


Memory Loss

Some amount of cognitive decline and memory loss are a normal part of aging, according to Schempp. She said the brain generally processes information slower as you age and it takes longer to learn and memorize new things like songs and poems.

"At 18, you can memorize the words to a new song in a very short amount of time," she said. "But when you are over age 60, it gets more difficult. You may need to repeat it over and over again before you can remember it."

But she said there is also some indication that people get more creative as they age.

"There are usually more neural connections between the right and left lobes of older people and fewer constraints when you are older," Schempp explained. "You also have more experiences to draw on that can help you be more creative."

There is a difference between the normal memory loss experienced by most people as they age and the memory loss associated with Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia, according to Schempp.

"The old saying is that not remembering where you left your keys is normal, but not remembering what your keys are for is a problem," she said. "Most people are very afraid of getting Alzheimer's or dementia, but you don't need to worry just because you walk into a room and can't remember why. When you don't know what the room is for or even what room you are in, then it's time to seek professional help."


Staying Sharp

Schempp stressed that the normal changes experienced during aging don't need to impact your quality of life. There are steps you can take to slow the process as well as compensate for memory loss and other cognitive issues.

Eating a nutrient-rich diet filled with plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains will help to keep your brain healthy right along with the rest of your body. Exercise is also extremely important for maintaining good brain health.

"That which is good for the body is good for the brain," Schempp said. "That means not smoking or consuming too much alcohol, eating right, and staying active."

It is also important to keep your mind active by engaging in activities you enjoy, socializing with friends, and learning new things, according to Schempp.

"Reading, puzzles and games, any activity that is new to you helps to stimulate your brain," she said. "Anything that helps keep your brain active is useful."

Schempp will also talk about ways to compensate for memory loss, like keeping your keys in the same place so you always know where they are and making lists.

For more information about other classes and seminars offered at Washington Hospital, visit www.whhs.com.

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