Preserving mental cognitivity becomes increasingly important as we get older. A decline in mental function is one of the most feared effects of growing older. However, you are not powerless to stop this part of the aging process. There are a variety of ways you can protect your brain from the effects of time.

What are Cognitive Skills?

The brain relies on cognitive skills to perform mental activities, such as learning, understanding, and remembering. Each of our cognitive skills has its own vital role to play when we encounter new information. This means that if even one of these cognitive skills is weak, then we will have a difficult time grasping, retaining, or using that information.

7 Cognitive Abilities

There are seven cognitive abilities that are essential to our mental function:

  1. Perception - Perception is the recognition and interpretation of sensory stimuli, such as smell, touch, and hearing.
  2. Attention - Attention refers to the ability to concentrate on a specific object, action, or thought, and the ability to ignore distractions.
  3. Memory - This includes both the short-term or working memory, which has limited storage, as well as the long-term memory, which has unlimited storage space.
  4. Motor Skills - Ability to control our muscles and bodies, allowing us to manipulate objects.
  5. Language - The skills that let us turn sounds into words and generate verbal output.
  6. Visual and Spatial Processing - The ability to process incoming visual stimuli, to understand the spatial relationships between objects, and to visualize images and scenarios.
  7. Executive Functions - Abilities that enable goal-oriented behavior, such as the ability to plan, and execute a goal.

These executive functions include a wide array of important abilities:

  • Flexibility: the ability to quickly change to the appropriate mental mode.
  • Theory of mind: the ability to understand other people’s inner world, their plans, their likes and dislikes.
  • Anticipation: the ability to form a prediction based on pattern recognition.
  • Problem-solving: the ability to define the problem, then to generate solutions to that problem and choose the right one.
  • Decision making: the ability to make decisions based on problem-solving, incomplete information, and emotions (which include both our own feelings and those of other people).
  • Working Memory: the ability to hold and manipulate information in real time.
  • Emotional self-regulation: the ability to identify and manage one’s own emotions.
  • Sequencing: the ability to break down complex actions into manageable pieces and to then prioritize them.
  • Inhibition: the ability to ignore distractions and internal urges.
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How Aging Affects Cognitive Function

Studies have shown that “normal” cognitive aging includes a decline in cognitive function. These changes affect the every day functional abilities of older adults such as driving, banking, and medication administration. Abilities such as the ability to acquire new information and adapt to changing situations suffer as well. Intelligence, learning, and memory all change as part of the aging process. Fortunately, there are things that help with preserving mental cognitivity.

8 Steps to Preserving Mental Cognitivity

Preserving mental cognitivity is truly easier than you might think. As we get older, keeping our cognitive skills sharp becomes of primary importance, and ensures that we will remain independent as long as possible. The following eight tips are useful when it comes to preserving your cognitive function.

  1. Physical Activity - Staying active physically can help with memory, improves cognition and protects the brain against degeneration.
  2. Openness to Experience - Learning new skills is key to staying sharp as we age.
  3. Curiosity and Creativity - Reading books, writing, and participating in brain-stimulating activities preserve memory.
  4. Social Connections - Loneliness can trigger psychological and cognitive decline.
  5. Mindfulness Meditation -  A recent study found that meditation may slow "the progression of age-related cognitive disorders like Alzheimer's disease and other dementias."
  6. Brain-Training Games - Scientists believe these problem-solving puzzles can delay or even prevent Alzheimer’s disease in some people.
  7. Get Enough Sleep - it is a well-established fact that the brain has to have enough sleep to consolidate learning and memory. We now know that a lack of sleep is also tied to a reduction of gray matter int he frontal lobe of the brain, which is responsible for processes such as working memory and executive function.
  8. Reduce Chronic Stress - Chronic stress and the high levels of cortisol that result from stress can damage the brain. Recusing stress also reduces cortisol, which helps maintain healthy brain structure.

Preserving Your Cognitive Thinking Matters

There is no time like the present to focus on preserving your mental cognitivity to function better and avoid memory loss. Put these eight strategies to use today and make sure that your cognitive skills stay as sharp as possible throughout your golden years. Read a book you've been putting off, learn a musical instrument you've always wanted to learn, pick up that new skill you've been thinking about. Not only will these activities keep your brain in tip-top shape, you just might enjoy it too. Your mental function is too important to lose, so take action now.

Featured image CC by A-SA 3.0 Unported, by Jorge Royan, via Wikimedia Commons

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