Like all parts of the body, the brain changes with age. Individuals may start to notice they are forgetting things more frequently, along with losing their train of thought. While these deviations are expected and even normal, cognitive decline can be the beginning signs of more severe consequences, including mild cognitive impairment and eventual Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. But with such debilitating, and even fatal, outcomes of severe cognitive decline, are there steps that can be taken to reverse such risks?
What Is Cognitive Decline?
Also known as age-related cognitive decline, cognitive decline is a normal response and change to brain function as we age. It is often used interchangeably with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), however MCI is the intermediate stage between what is expected with advancing age and a more serious decline of dementia. Mild cognitive impairment causes a slight, but noticeable and measurable decline in cognitive functions, including memory, judgment, and thinking, that are considered greater than changes associated with normal aging.
To date, the causes of MCI are not well-understood, though surfaced and ongoing evidence suggests some cases results from changes in brain chemicals that occur during the earlier stages of Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. Risk factors that raise the possibility of cardiovascular disease have congruently been seen in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, including smoking, physical inactivity, stress, and health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and cholesterol. Additional risk factors for cognitive decline include advancing age and having APOE-e4, a gene linked to Alzheimer’s disease. While MCI does significantly increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, it is not a guaranteed destination or certainty.
The Reversal of Cognitive Decline in Alzheimer’s Disease
Although Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are not destined with cognitive decline and MCI, it is important to remain proactive to minimize such repercussions of the conditions. While there is no known cure to reverse cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease at this time, a large pool of evidence suggests there are steps to slow down the progression and even reverse symptom severity. But first taking a glance into the world of pharmaceuticals, there are no medications currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat MCI at this time. However, some doctors prescribe cholinesterase inhibitors for people with MCI whose main symptom is memory loss, yet they are not recommended for routine treatment. Furthermore, there is some evidence that the use of statins can decrease the incidence of dementia.
But rather than only actively seeking out a one-size-fits-all and magic pill, physicians and researchers are gravitating towards a more individualized and programmatic approach. In fact, through a series of case studies, Dr. Dale Bredesen and colleagues found vast improvements in cognition following a therapeutic approach, or dubbed the metabolic cognitive enhancement using their personalized approach, also dubbed metabolic enhancement for neurodegeneration (MEND). The protocol was implemented among 10 patients with cognitive decline, nine ApoE4+ and one ApoE4‐, with general improvements in homocysteine, glucose utilization, inflammation, and other parameters showing to reverse the consequences of cognitive decline. Furthermore, concurrent and ongoing research supports the following factors may be beneficial to improve cognition:
•Manage Underlying Health Conditions
Underlying health conditions, such as dehydration, depression, hypertension, hypo- and hyperthyroidism, infections, and sleep disturbances can exacerbate symptoms of MCI. Managing these underlying conditions can resolve and improve memory and overall brain function. And whether taking the wrong dosage, medication altogether, or experiencing a medication interaction, some drugs can also cause negative adverse side effects. Such cognitive symptoms can be alleviated as soon as the originating issue is corrected.
•Consume A Balanced Diet
Diet can play a significant role in improving cognition, especially as deficiencies and abnormal metabolic parameters can accelerate cognitive declination. Limiting highly processed and refined products and consuming a wholesome diet, filled with whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats, can foster a healthy weight, reduce and manage nutrition-related health conditions, and reduce inflammation within the body. The advantages of diet on cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease are mostly related to powerful antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and B group vitamins such as folate and vitamin B12. A dietitian can help determine safe, yet effective dietary medications to meet individualized needs.
•Consider Vitamins and Supplements
Though dietitians and other health experts do encourage the “food first” rule, or obtaining vitamins and minerals through a healthy diet, supplements can be valuable to (as its name suggests) supplement an already balanced diet. Along with safeguarding against deficiencies, some research supports the link between cognitive health and vitamins and supplements. More specifically, the use of vitamin E and gingko may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Nonetheless, individuals are encouraged to consult with their primary care provider before taking any sort of supplement.
•Participate in Physical Activity
While the importance of physical activity is well-known, the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) recommends exercise for mild cognitive impairment for the first time. Whereas long-term studies still warrant exploration, the guideline summarizes 6-month studies suggest a possible benefit of twice-weekly exercise for cognition in mild cognitive impairment.
•Practice Cognitive Training
Practicing cognitive training and stimulating the brain can improve cognitive function both short and long-term. Improve reasoning, speed, and memory, along with continuing the process of learning can improve cognitive function, by reading, piecing together puzzles, learning a new language, and any other enjoyed way to keep the brain active.
•Schedule and Attend Routine Check-Ups
Routine check-ups are imperative throughout the lifespan, as they are a proactive method to detect risks that may threaten brain and overall health. It is also important to seek out care if you notice or experience more frequent episodes of forgetfulness and other indices of cognitive decline, as early detection can accelerate the management process and improve outcomes.