People who live till 100 or older are referred to as centenarians, and make up less than one percent of the U.S. population. However, of those who do, many are still cognitively sharp and quick. Nearly 15 percent of people age 70 and older experience some form of dementia, and that number jumps to nearly 35 percent for people over age 90.
Dementia is a grouping of neurodegenerative diseases that affects at least two cognitive functions, such as decision-making, memory, or the ability to complete everyday tasks.
What is the secret of centenarians who stay sharp and avoid the odds to have autonomy over their minds late in life? Researchers have coined these centenarians with healthy cognitive functioning as ‘cognitive super-agers” and while researchers are still exploring connections, they believe that one aspect might be the use of hearing aids.
The Effects of Aging on the Brain
Aging is inevitable and all parts of the body begin to decline – including our brains. This usually manifests as slight memory issues. The brain changes more than any other part of the body throughout life, weighing about 3lbs. and containing an estimated 100 billion neurons interconnected with trillions of synapses. It’s a complex system that we are still trying to understand.
Common memory changes associated with aging include difficulty learning new information, multitasking, and recall of memory – however, some of these declines start as early as age 20 when our brains are at the height of cognitive development.
While one out of three seniors struggles with recall and memory studies show that one-fifth of seniors over 70 perform just as well on cognitive tests as people in their 20s.
To better understand how we age and what improves people’s chances of aging with clear mental function, researchers at the Vrije University in Amsterdam published a study exploring the risk factors for cognitive decline, and how to keep your brain healthy throughout a lifetime.
The study surveyed 330 healthy centenarians, to better understand the key elements of healthy aging. Many of these centenarians had the cognitive capacity of adults in their 70s. The study participants generally did not struggle to make decisions, carry out plans, complete daily tasks, and list objects which began with a certain letter.
Even though the risk of dementia rises significantly as we age these super-aging centenarians showed no problem completing mental tasks and showed no major cognitive decline.
The Protective Factor: Resilience
The researchers believe that these super ager’s secrets rely on cognitive reserve. Cognitive reserve is described as your brain’s ability to improvise and find alternate ways of completing tasks. The study hypothesized that this resilience may have a protective effect that slows brain aging.
Even after death, around 40% of the participants were autopsied. While many of them showed slight evidence of plaque and tangles typically found in dementia, no one displayed enough to denote cognitive decline.
What is the Secret of Cognitive Super-Ager?
So how do you keep your mind resilient? While no one specific factor can decrease the risk of dementia a combination may reduce the risk. For instance:
- Eating a healthy diet. Diets rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean meats while avoiding processed sugars and foods can keep cardiovascular and cognitive health at the top of its game.
- An active social life. Staying social keeps our brains thinking quick
- Regular exercise. Staying active keeps your heart healthy so it can supply your brain with a regular supply of blood to keep it functioning at its best. Cardiovascular exercise three days a week or more can keep you thinking clearly.
- Higher education /a cognitively demanding job. Continue to challenge your brain and learn new things. Older adults with a higher level of education, or who worked stimulating jobs are more likely to be cognitive super-agers.
Treating Hearing Loss
Hearing loss is not just an ear issue but a cognitive one. When the brain can’t hear conversation and the world around, seniors can easily become depressed, isolated, less active, and social retreat. This has a significant impact on a person’s ability to age gracefully.
However, with the use of hearing aids, this can be avoided. These amazing devices amplify sound so you can participate in the life you love. To find out more about treating your hearing loss, schedule an appointment today and take one more step towards living your best life into your golden years.