According to the Alzheimer’s Association, about half of people over age 85 develop Alzheimer’s. With seniors older than 65 projected to make up nearly 20% of the population by 2020, researchers are increasingly interested in slowing the aging process. A new study has found that, among older adults, there may be a connection between low-quality sleep and faster aging of the brain.
Older Adults and Sleep
The research team gathered data from the Singapore Longitudinal Aging Brain Study, which evaluated 66 Chinese seniors. Researchers measured the subjects’ brain volume using MRI scans and administered tests of cognitive functioning every two years. They found that adults who spent less time sleeping each night showed faster declines in cognitive functioning. They also had more rapid ventricle enlargement. The brain’s ventricles tend to increase in size over time due to a loss of cells, so ventricle enlargement is one way to measure how quickly the brain is aging.
Slowing the Aging Process
A variety of factors cause the brain to age, but lifestyle choices can help slow the process. In addition to getting adequate sleep, previous research has shown that the following steps can reduce brain aging:
- Get plenty of exercise. Physical activity can help slow a host of mental and physical symptoms associated with aging.
- Stay active and social. Friendship keeps your mind active and may help slow the aging process.
- Find healthy ways to manage stress, since stress can destroy brain development.
- Keep your brain active by reading, playing an instrument, learning a new language, or playing brain training games. Recent research has found that people who stay intellectually active are less likely to develop dementia.
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- Beck, J. (2014, June 24). Study: An Intellectual Life Could Protect Against Dementia. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://m.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/06/study-an-intellectual-life-could-protect-against-dementia/373304/
- The aging brain. (2011, December 05). The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/the-aging-brain/2011/12/05/gIQAskhDWO_graphic.html
- The less older adults sleep, the faster their brains age, new study suggests. (2014, July 1). Science Daily. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140701091458.htm
- The nervous system in old age. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/aging.html
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