World Alzheimer’s Day takes place during World Alzheimer’s Month and occurs on September 21st every year. This year’s theme is “the power of knowledge.” Being able to understand dementia, how it affects people, the warning signs, and how to support those who have it, as well as how to support their caretakers, is critical to many people’s well-being.

While there are some things that are part of the normal aging process when it comes to a change in our cognitive function, dementia and the development of Alzheimer’s is not. Normal brain changes that occur as we age include slower processing speed, increased difficulty multi-tasking, occasional forgetfulness, decreased memory of things that are newly learned, occasional difficulty falling asleep, and/or lower energy at times. However, the following symptoms are not considered part of the normal aging process: getting lost, misplacing items frequently, forgetting the function of items, difficulty naming items or close family, needing help with everyday tasks, and/or insomnia or sleeping all the time.

While we may not be able to completely mitigate the risks for developing Alzheimer’s or dementia, as there are some risk factors beyond our control — such as genetics — there are certain things we can do to help reduce the risk of cognitive decline with age.

5 Ways to Reduce Risk of Cognitive Decline

  1. Eat a Well-Balanced Diet. A healthy diet is as good for your brain as it is for your heart. Eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Choose low-fat protein sources, such as fish, beans, and skinless poultry. In addition, there are certain foods that have been shown to build brain and nerve cells, which are essential for learning and memory. These foods include fatty fish, nuts and seeds, flaxseed oils, and avocados.
  2. Daily Physical Activity. Physical activity increases blood flow to your whole body, including your brain. This can help to keep your memory sharp. This could include group exercise classes, walking, gardening, yoga/meditation, or a home exercise program developed by your therapy team.
  3. Stay Mentally Active. Just as physical activity helps keep your body in shape, mentally stimulating activities help keep your brain in shape – and might keep memory loss at bay. Try crossword puzzles, bridge, or learning a new language.
  4. Socialize Regularly. Social interaction helps ward off depression and stress; both of which can contribute to memory loss. Look for opportunities to get together with loved ones and friends regularly. If you are more prone to being introverted, try adding social events to your calendar. You might be more likely to participate if it’s built into your day. Try attending a group event once a week or have a regularly scheduled lunch with a friend.
  5. Get Organized. You are more likely to forget things if your home is cluttered. Jot down tasks, appointments, and other events in a calendar or electronic planner. There is technology out there that can help you stay organized, too. Google Home or Alexa can help you keep track of your medication schedules, calendar events, and more!