By Omid Omidvar, M.D.,
As you age, your body naturally changes. You may start to see more gray hairs and wrinkles that weren’t there 10 years ago. There are also changes that aren’t visible that happen within your nervous system.
Your brain is your body’s “command center.” The rest of the nervous system relays messages back and forth from the brain to different parts of the body. It does this through the spinal cord, which contains nerves that branch out to every organ and body part.
As you age, you lose cells in your brain and spinal cord. This breakdown results in nerve cells sending out messages a lot slower than before, affecting your senses and inhibiting your movements. As nerve cells break down, toxins build up in the brain tissue, causing them to malfunction, which can lead to neurological issues. Common age-related neurological issues include:
Stability and balance problems
Your balance relies on signals from your brain to different organs, specifically your eyes, ears and legs.
Many older adults experience problems with balance and stability because of medications or infections that affect the inner ear and brain. Issues with stability and balance can result in falls, which can cause serious injury, such as broken bones, neck injuries, head injuries, fractured hips and more.
Cognitive skills decrease as adults age because of medications, hormone imbalances, vitamin and nutrient deficiencies, and head injuries.
As older adults’ cognitive skills decline, they can become more forgetful, and find it difficult to multitask and communicate.
Tremors are the involuntary and rhythmic shaking of any part of the body caused by dysfunction within the parts of the brain that control movement.
These tremors can pose a problem for everyday activities, such as eating or writing.
When you sleep, your brain clears out toxins in the central nervous system that build up during the day. At the same time, the body repairs any damaged cells.
As people age, their sleep patterns are not as stable, which can affect the brain’s ability to repair cells. Some older adults also suffer from sleep apnea – a disorder where a person’s breathing repeatedly starts and stops through the night, causing low-quality sleep, and further limiting your brain’s ability to repair cells.
Habits to keep your nervous system healthy
If you experience a neurological issue, it can hinder your quality of life. Practicing these habits can keep your nervous system healthy and lessen your risk for neurological issues:
- Maintain an active lifestyle: Exercise improves how your existing cells work, which improves your brain function. It may be hard to run three miles but don’t underestimate the value of movement. Some low-impact exercises include walking and simple stretches. Stay active for at least 45 minutes, five days a week. If you cannot handle that, do as much as you can.
- Maintain a healthy diet: Cut down on fried foods, red meat and poultry, and add more fish, fruits and vegetables to your diet. Try to follow a Mediterranean diet.
- Maintain a normal blood pressure: Older adults with high blood pressure are more likely to decline cognitively. Lower your blood pressure by cutting down on salt and increasing your intake of magnesium and potassium. Take any necessary medications.
- Control your cholesterol: High cholesterol can contribute to neurological issues. Cutting down on animal fat and increasing your amount of plant-based fats, such as olive oil, can lower cholesterol levels.
- Manage your medications: The simultaneous use of multiple medications can potentially create negative health issues. It’s important to review all prescribed and over-the-counter medications and supplements with your doctor to make sure you’re taking only what is needed.
- Get adequate sleep: Make sure you create the right sleep environment. Your bedroom should be a dark, comfortable place free of noise and distractions. Avoid falling asleep with your television on because it can cause you to wake up in the middle of the night. If you suffer from sleep apnea, get treatment as soon as possible to prevent any further sleep or neurological problems.
- Maintain an active social life: An active social life can prevent cognitive decline. Try joining a social club or an older adult health center. If you can’t meet in-person, try phone/video calling friends and family.
- Practice brain-stimulating activities: Mental exercises stimulate the brain’s metabolism. Puzzles, word searches and reading are all activities that keep the brain active.
Seeking Care for Yourself
MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center’s neurodiagnostic team can analyze and monitor a patient’s nervous system functions to diagnose and treat neurological diseases and conditions effectively. If you think you or a loved one suffers from any type of neurological issue, talk to your doctor for a referral to a neurologist. To find a primary care physician who can help, visit memorialcare.org/Providers.
Omid Omidvar, M.D., is a neurologist with MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center.
Source: Orange County Register
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