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Improving cognition in the elderly

Updated: Jun 24

Cognition is vital to the quality of life in old age. With aging there are changes in cognitive ability such as slow processing power. There is however a very big variation in these changes between different individuals but one thing is for certain and that is that every individual will experience some sort of cognitive decline. Various lifestyle factors and medical diseases have been associated with cognitive aging. The beauty is that most of these factors are modifiable or manageable. The following are the various strategies that can be put in place to promote cognition in old age.

These strategies can be grouped into various categories namely; detection of individuals at risk, management of lifestyle, management of medical conditions and the use of pharmaceutical products. To begin with we will look at the screening of individuals with risk factors. Screening is essential as it enables early implementation of strategies to prevent further cognitive decline. The approaches to early detection include use of imaging, biomarkers and doing neuropsychological testing. Imaging of the brain such as computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging have been used in the preclinical investigation of dementia. These modalities are promising especially in the detection of hippocampus atrophy which has been associated with loss of cognition. Biomarkers can also be used in early detection of cognitive loss; low levels of beta amyloid levels correlate with dementia.

Management of lifestyle is another method that can be employed in the reduction of cognitive loss by promoting brain reserve through lifelong learning and social engagements. Physical exercise has been known to increase the levels of brain derived neurotrophic factor that has been known for cell health in the nervous system. Physical exercise also does away with the vascular risk factors. Poor sleep pattern is associated with poor memory and learning and as such improvement of sleep improves cognition in a very big way. Good nutrition reduces the chances of an individual suffering from cognitive loss. There are some nutrients whose deficiencies in the body put one at an increased risk of dementia such as vitamin B12 deficiency. Some nutrients that act as antioxidants including vitamin E protect the brain from oxidant injury. Care should also be exercised to avoid over nutrition that comes with its own fair share of problems. Finally as part of the lifestyle modification, reduction of stress levels also comes in handy as part of reduction of cognitive loss. Chronic stress level has been associated with atrophy of the hippocampus hence dementia.

There are a wide range of medical conditions that have been associated with dementia. These include diabetes, hypertension and hyperlipidemia. Management of these conditions will keep dementia at bay. For an individual diagnosed with these conditions, it is prudent that he or she takes medication as prescribed. These individuals also need to consider the screening methods discussed earlier as they are at a greater risk for dementia.

Lastly, there are pharmaceutical products that are in development that will help in the prevention and treatment of dementia. These drugs include cholinesterase inhibitors that have been shown to improve cognition in dementia. Other drugs include muscarinic agonists and glutamate moderators. Aging is as inevitable and so is loss of cognitive function. If the strategies enumerated herein are put into practice the lives of the old will be improved to a very large extent.