How Not to Say “Honey – I Shrunk My Brain”
“There are three signs of old age: Loss of memory… I forget the other two.”
– Red Skelton
Are you experiencing forgetfulness, processing lapses or recollection issues? Not as sharp and quick as you used to be? Oh… those senior moments. Is it a part of getting old or can we do something about it? Or can it be varying stages of Mild Cognitive Impairment? (also called MCI – and no, it’s not a phone company).
Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) is the precursor to the more serious dementia or Alzheimer’s disease (AD). The physiological changes that start to occur in MCI (as in dementia or AD) include decreased size of the hippocampus, a brain region important for memory; increased size of the brain’s fluid-filled spaces, known as ventricles; and reduced use of glucose in key regions of the brain.
An estimated 15% of people over 65 with MCI develop dementia over a one-year period compared to only about 2% of the population without MCI. However, in many cases, the causes can be identified and are treatable; often to maintain the same level of cognitive ability or even improve.1,2 Early diagnosis is the key for various treatment options, management of its progression and for implementing strategies to maximize the treatment outcomes.
Possible symptoms of MCI 1,2
Do you have these symptoms?
- Losing things often
- Forgeting appointments, events
- Difficulty in finding words
- Losing train of thought or can’t follow the plot of a book or movie
- Having trouble following a conversation
- Difficulty in making decisions, finishing a task or following instructions
- Having trouble finding your way around well-known places
- Poor judgment
- Movement difficulties
- Problems with your sense of smell
- A short temper and aggression
- A lack of interest
What are the risk factors?1,2
- Increasing age: BUT age does not define us. There are plenty of centenarians that are mentally sharp and still going strong. Except for knowing where I put my cellphone, my mental clarity is what it was 20 years ago!
- Genetic factor: the APOE e4 gene which is also linked to Alzheimer’s disease. I had mine tested because of family history with my mom who suffered from Alzheimer’s. But having this gene is does not necessarily mean you will contract this disease. And the reverse is also true – not having this gene is not a guarantee that you won’t get Alzheimer’s. Case in point – although my mother has never been genetically tested, I am POSITIVE that she developed dementia and Alzheimer’s due to her lifestyle – she worked the night shift for 40 years and had a lot of stress and sleep deprivation during her lifetime.
- Diabetes – cognitive dysfunction is a comorbidity of diabetes.
- Excess alcohol – this leads to brain damage.
- High blood pressure
- Head injury – sports like football are one of the big risk factors.
- Obesity – A 5M person study showed the link between obesity and cognitive dysfunction.
- Obstructive sleep apnea.
- Lack of physical exercise.
- Lack of mentally or socially stimulating activities.
- Exposure to air pollution.
Reducing the above risk factors and involving in key activities may minimize the symptoms and help successfully deal with MCI.
Check out the images below showing changes in brain structure over time and with disease.
What can I do to avoid MCI?1,2
- Learn a new skill – how about a new language, a hobby like knitting, pottery making or something that incorporates a level of complexity.
- Follow a daily routine – but don’t get stuck in a rut.
- Plan tasks, make to-do lists, and use memory tools such as calendars and notes.
- Put your wallet or purse, keys, phone, and glasses in the same place each day.
- Stay involved in activities that can help both the mind and body.
- Volunteer in your community, at a school, or at your place of worship.
- Spend time with friends and family.
- Get quality sleep, generally seven to eight hours each night.
- Exercise at a moderate to vigorous intensity most days of the week.
- Eat a healthy diet full of nutrients including whole fruits and vegetables and lots of spices.
- Prevent or control high blood pressure.
- Limit consumption of alcohol – I love wine (a lot) but it no longer likes me so I decided to give it up altogether.
- Get help if you feel depressed for a period of time.
- Wear a hearing aid if you have hearing loss.
- Stimulate your mind with puzzles, games and memory training.
- Virtual reminders.
MCI may be an early sign of progression into a more serious dementia and AD which may take up to 20 years to manifest its symptoms. Effective intervention may be possible through a doctor or specialist if these conditions are identified early. Focusing actively on prevention with a healthy lifestyle, diet, exercise, sleep and proactive mindset should lower the risks.
Who wants a shriveled brain? Not me!
1. What Is Mild Cognitive Impairment? | National Institute on Aging (nih.gov)