Mental Health and Understanding Normal Aging

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The digital age has granted us access to so much information that a single Google search can yield literally millions of results. While this advancement in technology has done wonders in terms of commerce, entertainment, work, and education, it does have severe repercussions in how our mind works and our mental health overall.

Alvin Toffler, an American writer (Amazon) known for his works discussing modern technologies and the digital revolution, coined the term “Future Shock,” a form of disorientation that one can feel when being bombarded with too much information and change in a short span of time, thus creating issues when it comes to understanding and decision-making.

Add that to our less-than-healthy lifestyles, and it’s just a recipe for a rapid decline of our cognitive health.

Subjective Cognitive Decline

The CDC says that 1 in every 9 American adults have subjective cognitive decline, and given this prevalence, the conversation surrounding cognitive and mental health is a pressing matter.

There are, of course, efforts to help those who have these conditions, such as Memory Cafes that cater to guests with cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s or any other forms of dementia. However, when it comes to truly understanding mental health and memory decline, there is still much to uncover.

What is Aging?

Before we can understand the role of aging in our mental health, it is first necessary to know what aging really is. It may seem at first that aging is simply the passage of time, but it is more multifaceted than that.

According to the National Institute on Aging, “Aging is associated with changes in dynamic biological, physiological, environmental, psychological, behavioral, and social processes.” Based on this definition alone, we can say that aging is not simply a chronological process.

There are also various types of ages that should be factored in when we talk about aging.

Chronological Age

There is your chronological age, of course, which is your age in years and has limited significance on your health.

Biologic and Psychological Ages

Then there is your biologic age, which refers to the bodily changes that occur as you age. Your biologic age is mostly correlated to your psychologic age, which is based on how you act and feel. This means that the healthier you are, both physically and mentally, you are considered psychologically younger regardless of your chronologic age.

Normal Aging and Cognitive Health

As mentioned earlier, aging brings with it inevitable biological changes, particularly when it comes to your cognitive health. Studies show that our thinking abilities peak at around 30 years, and then subtly decline after that.

Age-related decline typically involves the slowing down of decision-making, retaining information, and sustaining attention. These changes, of course, vary depending on each individual and their respective lifestyles.

Normal brain aging, for example, can be accelerated by certain lifestyle disorders, such as diabetes. A recent study shows that normal brain aging is accelerated by 26% in people with type 2 progressive diabetes. This clearly shows that aspects of your lifestyle have significant effects on your brain health.

These factors, according to the Cleveland Clinic, include physical activity, food and nutrition, medical risks, sleep and relaxation, mental exercise, and social interaction. All of these factors are within one’s own control, thus showing that while biologic aging is inevitable, you play an active role in how your brain ages. Mental Health

How Environment Affects Mental Health

There are, of course, factors beyond our control that also affect our brain health. The World Health Organization states that a person’s physical environment – including their homes, neighborhoods, and communities – also plays a role in your mental health. In particular, the cleanliness of one’s environment plays a significant role in your mental health.

For example, a study by the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center reveals the connection between air pollution and anxiety levels, especially among children. According to the study, even the smallest spikes of air pollution increased the risk of hospitalization for severe mental health issues by 44%.

Conversely, a cleaner environment also does wonders when it comes to our mental health. Natalie Christine Dattilo, a clinical health psychologist and instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, says that when we maintain an organized home, we reinforce the message that we are worth the time, effort, and practice it takes to live in a cared-for and curated space.

Aside from a clutter-free home, our mental health also benefits from a clean work environment, and employers benefit the most from providing their employees with a cleaner workspace. A cleaner office space is not only more inviting and attractive, but it also boosts concentration and morale, making employees more productive, too.

How to Spot Memory Issues

Mild changes in cognition are to be expected as we age, which is why it is often joked that we are getting older when we tend to forget things. However, there are key differences when it comes to normal aging and abnormal memory decline.

A normal cognitive decline is subtle and does not exactly have life-altering effects. For instance, as you age normally, you might go through the occasional trouble of remembering people or places or you might take a longer time processing information.

Mild cognitive impairment, on the other hand, constitutes changes that are noticeable and can affect a person’s life. For example, they might forget even the names of their families and friends and may have difficulty in verbalizing thoughts, often repeating statements or questions.

A person who has memory issues might also exhibit certain symptoms that you can watch out for, such as getting lost in familiar places, repeated falls, as well as changes in dietary and hygiene habits. The progression of these symptoms may be slow to start but may be triggered by certain stressors or other illnesses, which makes it necessary to get regular check-ups.

An Active Role in Mental Health

Aging is a normal process which all of us will or are already experiencing. While it can be a daunting thought, especially when we think about how our lives might change when we start to decline physically and mentally, we just need to remember that we also play an active role in how we age and our own mental health.

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