Keeping Our Mental Momentum

We now know what will keep our bodies in great order, but if nothing works in the attic, what good are well appointed rooms and great plumbing?

Cognitive functioning as we age includes a multitude of components. We would need an attic the size of Alaska to store all the luggage. However, I unpacked a few important concepts from both seniors who are doing their best to make each day count, and clinical research. Both camps talk about optimizing one’s cognitive function. Researchers stress the ability of the brain to miraculously tap into other regions to compensate for deterioration of the hippocampus, pre-frontal cortex, and the white matter called Myelin. The seniors list their continual ability to learn new things, which keeps their minds sharp. To “keep going, and the consequential result on the mental attitudes, which are very important,” as one Scot in the UK study so eloquently said. 

The idea of having and setting goals, however challenging, ensures an active life many older adults envision. The analysis of that behavior by scientists reflects the need for a positive view; these seniors see their “future-selves” as active, engaged, and capable of achieving those goals. This data reinforces my last week’s post, where I talked about how a positive attitude can reduce our mental age. We also need self-acceptance, rather than denial, to age vibrantly. This recognition of what we realistically can and cannot do makes the difference between being happy as we get older, and being angry--a fun, upbeat Gran verses a sour-faced, grumpy old Gramps. 

The complement to self-acceptance could be resilience. Resilience is so very important to aging vibrantly. I see resilience as both a thinking process and an emotional progression that enhances and heightens cognitive functioning. Resilience is determination, it’s grit, it’s our will to thrive when dealt a handful of adversity. Strong will takes mental processing, reasoning, decision-making, and planning—all activities of a highly functioning mind. Not to fog up the mirror, but I also believe one can be vibrant even as these processes diminish. Our will—the passions of our hearts and our desires-- often remains as ignited at eighty as it was at twenty, and this positive attitude can be ours until it’s time to fly away with the angels. 

The process not directly mentioned by the seniors, but explored deeply by researchers is retaining memory.  Every day people ask me what to do to hold on to their memory banks.   Even though what scientists think this red-hot minute might be cold ashes tomorrow, for now exercise tops the list, especially non-repetitive exercises like dancing of all kinds, followed by playing an instrument, listening to certain types of music, adequate sleep (which we will talk about in future posts), and one we will discuss next week-- a double-dip winner--social engagement. Genetics plays a part in memory retention, but not as large a role as we once thought. Learning a foreign language after mid-life also shows promise for keeping our brain reserves high. Next time I will open the last bag and pull out the findings on how engaging our hearts might just be the secret to truly keeping us vibrant.

Until next time…Be Vibrant!