As we age, many of us will be concerned about the risk of deterioration in our mental faculties. In many cases, this process is by no means inevitable and something we must accept passively.
At the outset, it should be stated that this article is written based on a collation of general views and IS NOT qualified medical advice. If you have any concerns about the state of your mental capabilities, you should contact a qualified medical professional for further advice and at the earliest opportunity.
What happens as we age?
Before getting into this complicated subject, it’s worth clarifying that we are not discussing here clearly identifiable medical conditions. Specific conditions such as Alzheimer’s or the effects of a stroke are outside the scope of what’s being discussed.
This is instead about a process that for centuries people have accepted was “gently inevitable”. That is a slow deterioration in people’s ability to perform dynamic and moderately complicated thought-related tasks as they age. This sometimes involves symptoms such as, a deterioration in the coherency and fluidity of conversational ability, short term memory problems and so on.
It’s probably safe to assume that many of us have seen these processes at work in some older people. As we ourselves age, it’s perfectly natural to start to wonder whether or not we will experience the same and if it’s possible to do something to avoid such.
It is not inevitable
To begin with, it’s important to remember that this process is by no means universal.
While we might all have seen older people whose mental faculties are perhaps not as sharp as they once were, we probably also know very large numbers who appear to be as mentally focused at 90 as they were at 30.
To cut directly to the chase, medical science at the moment continues to investigate the reasons why some of us appear to experience a decline in our capabilities as we age, whilst others do not.
In some cases, there is speculation that the differences may be attributable to genetics. In others, there is increasing evidence that lifestyle choices may play a very significant role in determining how functional our mental capabilities remain as we age.
There is now increasing emphasis in medical and lifestyle sciences, on trying to tap into those good practices as a way of delaying or avoiding a weakening of our mental prowess as we age.
What can be done?
Many authorities agree that there are a number of things we can do to try and keep mentally fit and active for much longer in our lives:
- maintain an occupation or hobby that requires us to perform demanding cognitive tasks on a daily basis. That doesn’t necessarily mean higher mathematics! For example, tasks involving repairing mechanical objects or maintaining them, can demand a lot of mental dexterity;
- avoid emotional stress. Some authorities believe that constant psychological stresses, which continue into older age, can be extremely damaging to our mental wellbeing. Worrying excessively about things such as your retirement accommodation and our families, needs to be avoided where humanly possible;
- it’s now also widely accepted that there are links between our mental faculties and our overall physical fitness levels. If you take whatever steps are required to keep as fit as possible as you age, that may have knock-on benefit effects for your mental state too;
- although disputed, there is considerable opinion that eating healthily can play a role as well;
- engaging with the outside world is also massively important. This means getting out to see people, talking to them and playing a role in face-to-face interaction. Spending many hours each day alone watching television is now widely accepted as being unhealthy for our mental capabilities overall.
There is now a wide body of opinion that suggests that for many of us, maintaining sharp metal capabilities into older age isn’t just a question of good or bad luck.
Regarding our mind as an invisible muscle which needs to be both fed and exercised for its good health, might be as important as having the same approach for our heart.
If you’d like to know more about some of the things you might be able to do in this area, it will be worth consulting your physician for further advice.