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OT-V Season 2 Episode 9: Cognition and Aging — Keeping the Mind Sharp

Hi, I’m Julie Entwistle and you’re watching
OT-V where we provide solutions for living. In this episode I’m going to talk to you
about some of the proven ways we can stay sharp as we age. Our brains are made of billions of neurons,
which interact with each other to complete specific tasks. Signals are sent from one neuron to another
along neural pathways, and these determine our thoughts, emotions, insights, and so much
more. Each task relies on a different neural pathway,
so the pathway for reading a book, for example, is different than the pathway for putting on our shirt. The more we use a pathway, the stronger the
connection becomes. These neurons have the ability to physically
change themselves when faced with new and difficult experiences. This ability is called neuroplasticity. As we are exposed to new areas, tasks, information
or experiences, neural pathways are formed and existing ones are reshaped. This will continue throughout our entire lives
as we learn. As we have experienced through practicing
a musical instrument, memorizing our shopping list, or recalling a friend’s phone number,
if we consciously focus and train our brains in a certain area, they will become faster
and more efficient at performing those tasks. So, how can we use this knowledge to try and
combat age-related cognitive decline? Here are a few ideas:
First, the old adage is true – use it or lose it. Like the atrophy you would see in your leg
muscles if you stopped walking, your brain will respond the same if you reduce your engagement
in cognitive activities. Staying sharp requires you to find interesting
or new things to do with your brain. Learn online banking, take a class or a course,
play a challenging board game with a friend, shop at a new grocery store, take a different
route to get home – all of these simple things will challenge your brain to keep its
connections and networks firing on all cylinders. Second, while there are many forms of online
“cognitive training” the important thing to remember is that the best use of your brain
is just doing things, anything. Stay active, be involved, and if you have
extra time you can consider spending it playing online games that are designed to challenge
areas of your thinking like attention, memory or concentration. But just be warned that the skills you acquire
from the game might not necessarily translate to you using your brain better or differently
when doing your other daily tasks. For example, if you score really high on a
memory game that does not mean you will be better able to remember your grocery list. Really, the best way to improve your completion
of daily tasks is to just keep doing them! Third, you have heard this before and will
hear it again. Exercise is good for more than just your muscles. A healthy lifestyle filled with regular physical
activity helps to provide oxygen to your brain which in turn helps to improve cognition and
slow the signs of aging. Yes, your diet also matters. How do you fuel the most important organ in
your body? Research shows that a diet low in fat and
cholesterol, filled with antioxidants from fresh fruits and vegetables, and omegas from
fish and nuts, can help fuel your brain and ward off issues later in life. And these diets are also great for your heart
and reduce the risks of diabetes. Of course, sleep is important too. As people age they tend to experience greater
issues falling asleep and staying asleep. Yet, lack of sleep is another important cause
of poor cognition. Make sure you monitor your sleep patterns
and habits and try to ensure you are well rested. Take a look at our other OT-V video on sleep
if you want some pointers. And what about medications? Many medications have side effects that can
cause a cognitive fog. Understanding what these are and if there
are alternatives is a good step in the direction of staying sharp and alert during the day. Lastly, stay social: Keeping an active social
life in your senior years is very important for your overall health including your brain. If you are looking for activities to engage
in, check with your local library or senior’s center to find group activities you can join. Many of these are available during the day
and are inexpensive or free. In the end, remember that each person and
each environment requires a unique solution to any given problem. Seek the services of an Occupational Therapist
if you have a functional problem to solve. That concludes this episode of OT-V. Remember:
OT’s know stuff!

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