As we get older, we may start feeling like we’re not as mentally sharp as we were 10 – or even 5 – years ago. While this can be frustrating, it’s unfortunately a normal part of ageing. In fact, we all experience changes to brain functionality as early as our 20s and 30s. Basically, our brain begins to shrink and the networks that send information throughout the body become less efficient; this can result in things like memory loss, an impaired ability understand a new concept or finding it difficult making decisions.
It’s important to understand that experiencing these types of changes does not mean you are developing dementia; these are normal changes we all develop to a greater or lesser degree.
What isn’t a normal part of ageing, however, is dementia. According to Alzheimers NZ, almost 70,000 live with dementia in New Zealand; that is less than 10 percent of the total number of the 759,800 Kiwis aged over 65 (based on 2019 data from Stats NZ).
According to Dr Matthew Croucher (Psychiatrist of Old Age and Senior Clinical lecturer at University of Otago), there are some great strategies we should all be doing to improve our brain health:
- exercise at least 2- 3 times a week – this could a brisk walk, participating in a social sport or even physically active chores like mowing the lawn.
- eat a balanced diet full of fresh fruit, vegetables, fish, nuts and healthy fats like olive oil and avocado.
- stop smoking and minimise alcohol intake
- engage regularly in mentally active activities, such as a craft, reading, or attending a theatre show.
- staying socially connected – whether with loved ones or community groups – is a great way to maintain health and wellbeing at any age.