Loosing our cognitive ability and faculties is a real and understandable concern. Another concern that needs to be addressed is not fully accessing our cognitive ability. In this paper we will look at cognitive decline from a preventable perspective.
Stress is the body’s way of responding to demand or pressures. It can be caused by both good and bad experiences. In many cases stress is a healthy reaction. It helps us cope with life’s challenges (Tool Kit Overcoming Stress, 2009). Kerry Bone and Simon Mills (2013) note that stress to a certain degree is required. The question is, how much stress is enough stress? In 1987 a study was done to determine the need for a purpose in life. Without purpose we age prematurely (Reker, Peacock, & Wong, 1987). Purpose requires responsibility, and with responsibility comes a level of stress.
According to Beyond Blue, anxiety is more than just feeling stressed or worried. While stress and anxious feelings are a common response to a situation where we feel under pressure, they usually pass once the stressful situation has passed, or ‘stressor’ is removed, anxiety remains long after the stressor has been removed (“Beyond Blue,” 2019). Prolonged anxiety will lead to depression and other health related concerns (Tool Kit Overcoming Stress, 2009).
Cognitive ability and over/under arousal.
A psychologist named James Eastbrook came up with a theory on focus and arousal states after he had a near miss during skydiving. Dr. Eastbrook noticed how for a moment his thoughts were very narrow, and memories of the event are of certain things and other things are not noted at all (Mather, Clewett, Sakaki, & Harley, 2016). It was from these discoveries that a theory of optimal arousal started taking shape.
When we feel anxious, we are unable to focus on more than one task at a time. We may make decisions based on a fight or flight risk analysis, that may not always have the best logic. This tunnel like thought pattern manifests as absent mindedness and lapses in memory. When a child is trying to learn under such conditions, they do not retain information learned, but will rather have a parrot type recall (Lau et al., 2012). In mature people, self-assessed cognitive decline is most often associated with anxiety (Molinuevo et al., 2017). Under cognition is associated with a lack of energy. We find it difficult to concentrate on a task or learn a new skill when our energy is too low. One such factor is heart health. Insufficient circulation can result in a lack of energy (Hammond et al., 2018). Certain prescribed medications such as antidepressants or epilepsy management plans can leave you tiered and listless (Bryant & Knights, 2015). Low quality sleep can also have an under-arousal effect. Sleep is an essential condition, where the brain is able to redirect consciousness, and without external stimuli, process information that was dealt with through the day (Bryant & Knights, 2015, p. 341). There is a 40% chance of developing an anxiety disorder with a lack of restorative sleep (Mason & Harvey, 2014). This anxiety results from an imbalance in neuropeptides, namely serotonin and GABA. These neuropeptides are regulated by the limbic region of the brain, and if, due to a lack of sleep, these are put out of balance, it will result in cognitive decline (Bryant & Knights, 2015, p. 343).
Optimal arousal is then where the brain is challenged to build neurological pathways. These challenges do not invoke a fight or flight response, but rather stimulate growth. For these to happen side effects related to medication need to be managed to ensure adequate sleep and mental alertness. Anxiety needs to be dealt with, so as to avoid depression and forgetfulness.
In any biological organism, the cells only stay alive as long as they are receiving messages (Neighbors, 2010). If communication to the cell is cut off, the cell will die. In the same way our brains need to be stimulated and used, or they will just stop functioning. If you stop learning new skills you are cutting off vital pathways that need to be nurtured (Hötting & Röder, 2013). Cognitive function takes a lot of energy. As an energy conservation technique, the brain will shed neuropathways that it no longer uses. Neuroplasticity is a mechanism we can use to break bad habits. It is also something to be mindful of when we become lazy about using our pathways that are positive. In other words, with cognitive function, if you do not use it, you will lose it (“Discover How to Rewrite Your Brain with Neuroplasticity,” 2017).
Maintaining a balanced blood glucose level is essential in protecting cognitive health (Molinuevo et al., 2017). Blood glucose that is too high will result in damage to the arteries, while blood glucose that is too low will result in starvation of the brain cells (Lee et al., 2018). Diets consisting of high sugar, high salt and artificial fats and oils, not only damage arteries due to their inflammatory nature (McGrattan et al., 2019). Highly processed foods also result in blood glucose spikes and hypoglycaemia. Sugar drops will result in under-arousal (Zhou et al., 2018). The diet ideal for maintaining cognitive health remains the antioxidant rich Mediterranean diet containing foods with a low glycaemic index (Lee et al., 2018).
Atherosclerosis is the process by which plaque forms in arteries resulting in a narrowed lumen and restricted blood flow. If this blood flow restriction impedes nutrients reaching brain tissue, they will stop receiving signals and will die off (Shabir, Berwick, & Francis, 2018). There are 3 major causes of atherosclerosis, 1 obesity, 2 hypertension and 3 toxins from processed foods and pollutants that result in arterial damage (Schaftenaar, Frodermann, Kuiper, & Lutgens, 2016). Ensuring you reduce the contributing factors of atherosclerosis, will have a direct and positive impact on maintaining cognitive health (Shabir et al., 2018).
Hypertension results from a hardening of arteries, and loss of elasticity in arterial walls (Kostov & Halacheva, 2018). This increased blood pressure on the tiny arterioles feeding the kidneys eyes and brain causes damage to the arteries and subsequently the surrounding tissue (Carlström, Wilcox, & Arendshorst, 2015). Ensuring that your blood pressure remains within normal range will contribute to maintaining cognitive health.
Maintaining cognitive health is something that we consciously do, by using our brains and making informed decisions about the foods we eat. Times in our lives where we are overly aroused due to stressors that tunnel our vision will have an impact on our cognitive ability. Health concerns, medication and sleep difficulties can result in an under-aroused state, that will also impact our cognitive abilities. Ensuring that we address the events that impact our cognitive ability, by seeking the appropriate help, will ensure that we maintain our cognitive health.
Beyond Blue. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/anxiety
Bone, K., & Mills, S. (2013). Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine (2nd ed.): Elsevier Health Sciences U.K.
Bryant, B., & Knights, K. (2015). Pharmacology For Health Professionals (4th ed.). Chatswood NSW Australia: Elsevier.
Carlström, M., Wilcox, C. S., & Arendshorst, W. J. (2015). Renal autoregulation in health and disease. Physiological reviews, 95(2), 405-511. doi:10.1152/physrev.00042.2012
Discover How to Rewrite Your Brain with Neuroplasticity. (2017, 6/8/2019). [Educational] Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bbLP-as1ABk
Hammond, C. A., Blades, N. J., Chaudhry, S. I., Dodson, J. A., Longstreth, W. T., Jr., Heckbert, S. R., . . . Thacker, E. L. (2018). Long-Term Cognitive Decline After Newly Diagnosed Heart Failure: Longitudinal Analysis in the CHS (Cardiovascular Health Study). Circulation. Heart failure, 11(3), e004476-e004476. doi:10.1161/CIRCHEARTFAILURE.117.004476
Hötting, K., & Röder, B. (2013). Beneficial effects of physical exercise on neuroplasticity and cognition. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 37(9, Part B), 2243-2257. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2013.04.005
Kostov, K., & Halacheva, L. (2018). Role of Magnesium Deficiency in Promoting Atherosclerosis, Endothelial Dysfunction, and Arterial Stiffening as Risk Factors for Hypertension. International journal of molecular sciences, 19(6), 1724. doi:10.3390/ijms19061724
Lau, J. Y. F., Hilbert, K., Goodman, R., Gregory, A. M., Pine, D. S., Viding, E. M., & Eley, T. C. (2012). Investigating the genetic and environmental bases of biases in threat recognition and avoidance in children with anxiety problems. Biology of mood & anxiety disorders, 2, 12-12. doi:10.1186/2045-5380-2-12
Lee, H. J., Seo, H. I., Cha, H. Y., Yang, Y. J., Kwon, S. H., & Yang, S. J. (2018). Diabetes and Alzheimer’s Disease: Mechanisms and Nutritional Aspects. Clinical nutrition research, 7(4), 229-240. doi:10.7762/cnr.2018.7.4.229
Mason, E. C., & Harvey, A. G. (2014). Insomnia before and after treatment for anxiety and depression. Journal of Affective Disorders, 168, 415-421. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2014.07.020
Mather, M., Clewett, D., Sakaki, M., & Harley, C. W. (2016). Norepinephrine ignites local hotspots of neuronal excitation: How arousal amplifies selectivity in perception and memory. The Behavioral and brain sciences, 39, e200-e200. doi:10.1017/S0140525X15000667
McGrattan, A. M., McGuinness, B., McKinley, M. C., Kee, F., Passmore, P., Woodside, J. V., & McEvoy, C. T. (2019). Diet and Inflammation in Cognitive Ageing and Alzheimer’s Disease. Current nutrition reports, 8(2), 53-65. doi:10.1007/s13668-019-0271-4
Molinuevo, J. L., Rabin, L. A., Amariglio, R., Buckley, R., Dubois, B., Ellis, K. A., . . . Subjective Cognitive Decline Initiative Working, G. (2017). Implementation of subjective cognitive decline criteria in research studies. Alzheimer’s & dementia : the journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, 13(3), 296-311. doi:10.1016/j.jalz.2016.09.012
Neighbors, M., Tannehill-Jones, R. (2010). Human diseases (B. Marah Ed. 3rd ed.): Clifton Park, NY: Delmar Cengage Learning.
Reker, G. T., Peacock, E. J., & Wong, P. T. P. (1987). Meaning and Purpose in Life and Well-being: a Life-span Perspective. Journal of Gerontology, 42(1), 44-49. doi:10.1093/geronj/42.1.44
Schaftenaar, F., Frodermann, V., Kuiper, J., & Lutgens, E. (2016). Atherosclerosis: the interplay between lipids and immune cells. Current opinion in lipidology, 27(3), 209-215.
Shabir, O., Berwick, J., & Francis, S. E. (2018). Neurovascular dysfunction in vascular dementia, Alzheimer’s and atherosclerosis. BMC neuroscience, 19(1), 62-62. doi:10.1186/s12868-018-0465-5
Tool Kit Overcoming Stress. (2009). Australia: Lifeline Information Service Retrieved from https://www.lifeline.org.au/static/uploads/files/overcoming-stress-wfrisntobpbj.pdf.
Zhou, Y., Huang, L., Zheng, W., An, J., Zhan, Z., Wang, L., . . . Liu, L. (2018). Recurrent nonsevere hypoglycemia exacerbates imbalance of mitochondrial homeostasis leading to synapse injury and cognitive deficit in diabetes. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, 315(5), E973-E986. doi:10.1152/ajpendo.00133.2018