According to the CDC, Subjective Cognitive Decline (SCD) is a self-reported experience of worsening or more frequent confusion or memory loss. It can also be one of the earliest noticeable symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia. Experiencing SCD can be worrisome for our health and well-being because as we age, it can have an effect on memory, awareness, judgment and mental sharpness, which can greatly interfere with everyday tasks and activities. 

Ways to Reduce Cognitive Decline

While we can’t control genetics or our age, there are environmental factors within our control that interact with our genes to create differences in the rate of cognitive decline. Consider the following areas that can reduce the risk of cognitive decline as we age. Each of the factors - both ones we can control and the ones we cannot, interact with one another. It is important to address each of them to reduce the risk of cognitive decline.

Follow a Plant-Based or MIND Diet 

It is well known that nutrition choices matter in preventing disease, especially when it comes to brain health. To help prevent disease, increase your intake of plant-based foods, sourced primarily from vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Choose foods that don’t have nutritional labels and are as close to their natural food state as possible. Start small by adding at least one plant-based food with each meal.

Our dietitians recommend following the MIND diet, a scientifically sound and well-researched diet. The MIND diet stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay and is an optimal meal plan to follow to support optimal brain health. It includes reducing or limiting added sugar intake (24 grams for females, 36 grams for males per day), sodium (packaged and fast foods), saturated fats (fried foods, butter, meats) and moderate or no alcohol.

Download the MIND Diet Checklist

Increase Movement

Physical activity provides major benefits to the body and to the brain. Exercise modulates genes that would otherwise trigger structural and functional changes in the brain. Therefore, exercise plays an important role in counteracting aging in the brain. Take advantage of the weather when it’s nice and get outside to walk or run whenever possible. Set movement goals on your smart phone or watch. Take a 10-15 minute stretch break or classes and take advantage of the many free and short fitness classes available online. If you aren't sure where to start with this, simply set a goal to move more than you did yesterday. Invite a coworker, friend or family member with you for a walk, or an exercise class, to ensure you will reach your movement goals.  

Create Healthy Sleep Habits

Studies report a strong association between sleep and cognitive function. Both quality and quantity of sleep can affect the decline in cognitive function. If you are having memory or focus issues, look at what your sleep schedule is like and plan a healthy sleep strategy. This might include shutting off digital devices and other screens within an hour of going to bed. Create a dark and quiet room with blackout curtains. The sleep goal is seven to eight hours per night and similar to exercise, try to hit this goal by making small improvements in your routine. Start with one easy thing you can change in your sleep routine tonight as you get ready for bed.

Manage Stress

Cognitive abilities may fall short when we are stressed, not surprisingly, as stress competes for all of our brain resources. Both short- and long-term stress affects brain function. The good news is that you can slow the decline of cognitive aging by introducing or increasing stress-reducing activities into your routine. Activities like yoga, massage, meditation, reading, exercise or listening to music are popular ways to decrease stress. Gardening or walking outside in nature (often referred to as “forest bathing”) has also been shown to provide positive health benefits. We recommend incorporating any of these options into your routine at least one to two days a week for 15-30 minutes, or more if time allows.

Say Hello to Social Interaction

Interacting with friends and family has a significant effect on your brain functions. There are studies that found that less socializing is associated with a steeper decline. Put your phone down and call a friend today. Meet them for a walk or dinner. The recommendations for brain health to delay or prevent cognitive decline are the same for overall good health. This includes weight management, regulating blood pressure, preventing type 2 diabetes and reducing cardiac risk. Small changes do add up. Commit to at least one of these today.

Nutrition and Brain Health

The MIND diet, a cross between interventions from the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets, has been shown to reduce the risk of developing dementia and loss of brain function as you age.

Brain Diet Food Facts

  • Rich in phytochemicals, which are plant substances that have an overall helpful effect on our health
  • Loaded with antioxidants, which inhibit oxidation and free radical damage in our body. The brain is especially vulnerable to this type of damage
  • Contain anti-inflammatory substances and omega-3 fatty acids to help reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise HDL (good) cholesterol

Brain Fueling Foods

These brain-building foods are known as brain fuel and can support a sharp memory.

  • Blueberries, berries and cherries; fresh, frozen and dried
  • Cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
  • Dark chocolate, cocoa or cacao nibs can increase levels of serotonin, your “feel good” hormone in the brain, which can help improve mood.
  • Dark leafy greens; spinach, kale and collards
  • MIND-ful spices like garlic, ginger, rosemary and turmeric (a spice found in curry)
  • Green Tea
  • Tuna (look for low mercury), bluefin, herring, mackerel and salmon
  • Walnuts and other nuts, seeds
  • Whole wheat, whole grains (quinoa, barley, farro, wheat berries), oats and brown rice
  • Beans/legumes (e.g., lentils, black beans, refried beans, chickpeas, navy beans, kidney beans)

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care provider’s instructions.

References: Today’s Dietitian, Rush University