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Hello Brain • Brain Health
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My, how well your cognitive function has aged!

My, how well your cognitive function has aged!

As you get older do you find you are a little slower at working out the change due when you buy something with cash? Maybe you spend a lot of time each day trying to find your keys or the TV remote? Don’t worry, that’s normal.

As we get on in years all the major organs in our body age and change – it’s no surprise that our heart and lungs, our digestive system and our skin and hair show signs of ageing, so it should be no surprise that our brain ages too.

In fact there are several ‘types’ of ageing – there’s your chronological age, which is determined by your date of birth, but there’s also your biological age, which is a measure of how fast your cells and organs are ageing, there’s your social age – are you a student? Working? Retired? – the ‘psychological’ age you adopt (‘I’m too old to wear that’ or ‘I am useful and interesting because of my life experience’) and there’s your cognitive age, which is a measure of your ‘higher’ brain functions.

Let’s take a closer look at that cognitive ageing. Your brain is always changing, and as you age those changes affect brain volume and structures, and also the connections between neurons that carry information around the brain.

It’s harder than it sounds to link those structural changes in the brain with changes in cognitive function, and as we age it’s more complex than simply getting progressively slower and more forgetful – some aspects of cognitive function can grow stronger in your 40s and 50s, and not everyone’s cognition ages at the same rate. Think about it – most of us have an elderly relative, neighbour or friend who still lives independently, wins at strategic board games and can stop an argument immediately with insight!  

In general though, memory and attention are the most vulnerable aspects of cognition as we age, which means that as you get older you are more likely to become absentminded or to forget things that you learned or did recently – like the name of a place that you visited or a celebrity in the news, or where you left the TV remote.

The good news is that decline is not inevitable – plenty of people maintain a high level of cognitive function as they age, and a severe decline in cognitive function that affects your activities of daily living is more likely to be due to the brain being stressed by a chronic illness or infection rather than ageing itself.

The HELLO BRAIN website will help you to become familiar with the kinds of behaviours, choices and activities that may protect your cognitive function as you age, and it’s never too early or late to start! Illustration: Cognitive reserve

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