Cognitive Health and Aging
December 14, 2022
By Teresa Brobeck, Ph.D., CCC-SLP
Performing routine daily activities such as cooking, scheduling appointments, driving, and paying bills requires us to think clearly, learn, and remember. Our thought processes, learning abilities, and memory capabilities are all components of our “cognitive health.”
As we age, mild changes in cognition can result in slower processing speed, slower word-finding and recall of names, and reduction in our ability to pay attention and “multitask”–even though our vocabularies, knowledge base, and life experiences are more extensive. Experts on aging suggest that our cognitive health directly impacts both our level of independence and our quality of life.
The National Institute on Aging indicates factors that can directly influence our cognitive health:
- Physical health
- Management of blood pressure
- Access to and intake of healthy foods
- Physical activity level
- Engagement in mentally stimulating activities
- Social connection with others
- Management of stress
A 2017 study completed by the international Lancet Commission also identified a number of modifiable risk factors that relate to decline in cognitive health, suggesting that attention to these could potentially reduce 40% of dementia cases worldwide.
For example, hearing, vision, and dental health impact our ability to communicate and participate in the world around us. Hearing and vision difficulties may impede our awareness, attention to information around us, and our ability to actively participate and establish new memories. Brain health is also directly impacted by our nutritional intake and sleep quality.
If we experience limitations in physical activity, focusing on improving our mobility may allow us to reduce the risk of falling and injury. If we experience difficulties related to diabetes management or high blood pressure (hypertension), addressing these can also significantly reduce the risk of stroke and related complications. Stopping or limiting smoking and alcohol use can also improve our cognitive health.
In other instances, use of strategies such as calendars and reminders and development of structured schedules and routines may assist us with improving and maintaining memory function. Even social interaction and communication with others can provide stimulation and facilitate our participation in life activities.
While mild changes in cognition can be part of the normal aging process, if changes in memory, problem-solving abilities, or clear expression of information seem more significant, it’s best to schedule an appointment with your doctor or other healthcare professional for further assessment.
Collaborating with a healthcare provider to effectively address modifiable risk factors may be beneficial. Monitoring and implementing strategies early and frequently to maximize our physical and cognitive health can aid in maintaining cognitive health and slowing cognitive decline.
The information contained in this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, care, or treatment. Always consult a qualified healthcare provider with any questions regarding any possible medical condition.
Teresa Brobeck, Ph.D., CCC-SLP is an Associate Professor in the Speech-Language Pathology Program at Midwestern University. Speech-Language Pathology students and faculty at the Midwestern University Therapy Institute in Glendale utilize the latest technology to evaluate and treat a wide range of speech, language, cognitive, and swallowing disorders in children and adults, at affordable prices. Call 623-537-6000 or visit: https://www.mwuclinics.com/arizona/services/therapy/speech-language