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4 Ways To Slow Down Cognitive Decline

8 min read



by Dr. Ryo Sanabria

Two senior men playing chess to slow cognitive decline

Have you ever wondered why we don’t have the same physical and mental capacity as we did when we were young?

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This is because as we age, all parts of our body go through specific changes, including the brain. For example, bone density, muscle strength, and mass decrease as age progresses, resulting in the weakening of overall body functions. 

Similarly, the performance of the brain also decreases with age. The blood flow to certain regions of the brain can decline during aging, which can reduce cognitive performance due to a decline in essential oxygen and nutrients to brain cells. In addition, regions of the brain can degenerate (shrink) during aging, which can reduce function including making the performance of complex tasks or learning more difficult. 

Age-related decline of the physical body — especially of the brain — is challenging to control, but luckily, there are various factors within our control that can help us slow down the rate of cognitive decline.

In this blog, we will discuss the top 4 natural ways to slow down cognitive decline as age progresses. 

Top 4 Ways To Slow Down Cognitive Decline  

Aging increases the risks of various cognitive diseases, like dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease. Even without these diseases, aging leads to diminished general brain activity and cognitive decline. 

The following are the top 4 tips to help slow down cognitive decline and boost mental health:

Increase Physical Activity 

The normal aging process causes changes in brain structure and functions. In addition, reduced activity of the brain and cognitive impairment can increase the risks of disorders in other body systems, including hypertension, abnormal levels of lipids, and uncontrolled diabetes. 

Luckily, many of these factors can be mitigated by increasing physical activity. 

Exercise improves blood supply to the brain, stimulating nerve function and nerve regeneration. Studies report that moderate-intensity physical activity or exercise has neuroprotective effects and can improve brain function.

Moreover, improving fitness helps in reducing the risk factors of cardiovascular diseases, which stimulates brain health and cognitive performance in seniors, as poor cardiovascular health can contribute to a decline in blood flow to the brain.

It is reported from both animal and human studies that physical activity plays an essential role in modifying the structural, metabolic, and functional dimensions of the brain. Specifically, brain atrophy/degeneration can be reduced due to increased nerve regeneration, and improved metabolic function can increase the circulation of essential lipids and other nutrients to the brain, which helps to protect and maintain cognitive performance in seniors.  

Seniors can engage in various moderate-intensity exercises based on their interests and body strength to improve fitness and cognitive health. 

For example, they can choose activities like taking nature walks, hiking, dancing, water aerobics, or others that involve moderate physical strength.

For people aged 19 to 64 years, it is recommended to do at least 2 – 3 hours of moderate-intensity exercise per week.

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Follow a Nutritious Diet 

In addition to exercise, a healthy, nutritious diet plays an equally important role in maintaining cognitive health for seniors.

Grilled salmon fish fillet and fresh tomato vegetable salad with lettuce, arugula, broccoli and green beans. Healthy food, mediterranean diet

The MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet was invented in 2015, and it has the potential to slow down the onset of neurodegenerative diseases. It combines the Mediterranean diet and DASH diet to create a diet plan that is focused on improving brain health. The Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats, while the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet similarly focuses on incorporating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats. Both diets also emphasize reducing the intake of red meat, added sugars, and saturated fats. The Mediterranean diet and DASH diets have many similar overlapping features, making a combination of these diets quite simple. 

Studies report that adhering to the MIND diet has been shown to improve cognitive function test scores and reduce the risk of dementia. 

The MIND diet has a list of foods that seniors can add to their dietary routine, including: 

  • Leafy greens 
  • Beans
  • Berries
  • Olive oil
  • Whole grain
  • Vegetables 
  • Walnuts
  • Dark chocolate 
  • Seafood
  • Poultry 

The MIND diet includes components that offer exceptional nutritional value, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory properties. 

The primary nutritional components in the MIND diet are polyunsaturated fatty acids, folate, polyphenols, and carotenoids, which help improve brain health in the elderly population.

Unlike other diets, the MIND diet focuses more on the replacement of unhealthy foods with healthier options, rather than limiting food intake or restricting food. This makes the MIND diet a bit easier to adhere to, since it still allows consumption of delicious, yet nutritious, food options. 

Here is how you can add the MIND diet to your daily routine:

  • Replace the oil you use in your cooking with olive oil.
  • Try adding fish to your diet at least once a week. It is recommended to choose seafood that has high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, like tuna, salmon, or trout. Those who do not like fish can try fish with lower flavor profiles like tilapia or cod. Even if you cannot incorporate fish into your diet, reducing red meat and replacing it with poultry is a good option.
  • For whole grains, select meals from various options. For example, some days, you can have whole grain cereal, oatmeal, or whole wheat bread for breakfast, and on other days, you can switch to eating brown rice or whole wheat pasta for lunch or dinner. 
  • Have five or more servings of nuts, like walnuts, each week. 
  • For poultry foods, eat turkey or chicken two times per week.

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Engage in Brain Activities 

Another significant way to reduce cognitive decline and improve mental health in seniors is to participate in activities that engage the brain. Similar to how physical exercise is the best way to reduce muscle atrophy during aging, mental exercise can reduce loss of brain function and improve cognitive health. 

Many seniors have a significant decline in brain-related activities, especially after their retirement, which can diminish cognitive performance. 

Mind activities not only help the brain stay active but can also reduce the risk of depression and other psychological issues in seniors. In addition, they can both prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. 

Some enjoyable activities that involve the brain include: 

  • Playing mind games, like sudoku, crossword puzzles, or chess and checkers 
  • Solving math problems
  • Reading or writing 
  • Stitching 
  • Crafting or painting 
  • Learning a new hobby or skill 


Did you know that social isolation, depression, and lack of general mental and emotional well-being can significantly impact brain health and cognition?

One study reported that social isolation led to a decrease in cognitive function, with depression being the likely culprit, which affected the processing speed and perceptual motor speed of the brain. Depression can impair memory and attention, and distort information processing, all of which can have direct impacts on cognitive function. 

Another study, the China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study (CHARLS), which included 7,761 Chinese individuals above the age of 50 years, reported that social isolation can result in significant cognitive decline in multiple areas including orientation (awareness of time, place, and person), episodic memory (ability to learn, store, and retrieve information), and numeric abilities. 

Socializing helps improve cognitive function by preventing loneliness, isolation, and depression, which can help keep the brain healthy.

There are multiple ways of socializing for seniors, including going on regular walks in populated areas like parks, beaches, and retirement communities; having get-togethers with friends, family, or neighbors; joining an online group to increase learning; volunteering; or attending senior center events.

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