Maintain the Brain

Sonja Haggert

WHAT’S VERNON SMITH been doing since he won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics at age 75, and why should you care?

At 97, Smith is still on the faculty of the business and law schools at Chapman University. When he’s not traveling the country delivering lectures, he usually spends 10 hours a week writing and researching.

I read about Smith in a recent article in the AARP Bulletin devoted to super-agers, defined as those over age 80 with the brain of a person 20 to 30 years younger. A group of 1,600 over 90-year-olds are being studied at the University of California, Irvine, to better understand this phenomenon.

While the study’s findings will undoubtedly be informative, here are eight things that the AARP article and other sources say you can do right now to increase your odds of a healthy brain for as long as possible.

  • Take control of blood pressure and blood sugar by eating a healthy diet. That can slow brain aging by up to 7½ years.
  • Have an active social life. Connect with someone every day.
  • Avoid stress. Depression can double the risk of dementia.
  • Get enough sleep. But don’t rely on prescription medicine. A study found that sleep drugs increase the risk of dementia.
  • The Washington Post reported on a study published in The Lancet that encourages the use of hearing aids, which can reduce the risk of cognitive decline by 48% for those with other risk factors.
  • Maintain your eyesight. Data from a 2021 study found that 100,000 cases of dementia in the U.S. could have been prevented by cataract surgery.
  • Don’t just exercise; do more demanding exercise.
  • Don’t just do Wordle or Sudoku. Attend lectures and listen to music. Change it up.

While we’re talking about super-agers, there’s Ruth Westheimer, the sex therapist known as Dr. Ruth, who is now age 95. She’s quoted in the AARP article saying that, in addition to physical exercise, she uses her mouth a lot—and that helps to exercise her brain.

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