“When we talk about cognitive aging, we focus on the decline part but late life is a time of gains and losses,” Marsiske said at the 26th annual Russell B. Clark Gerontology Conference. “We have areas of functioning that decline and we have areas that function and stay strong. There are losses but benefits of experience. For example, vocabulary skills grow.”
As an individual ages, their cognitive functions deteriorate. Symptoms of this deterioration include memory loss, trouble planning or problem solving, and social withdrawal. Brain diseases like Alzheimers have similar patterns of dementia. Dr. Marsiske spoke about “an arsenal” to combat the consequences of the aging process, specific solutions to keep cognition strong later in life:
1. Continue your education: learn to play the piano, or take an independent study class.
2. Play video games: His research demonstrates that older adults experience “flow,” an optimal psychological state said to occur when people are able to meet the challenges of a given task or activity with appropriate skills and accordingly feel a sense of well-being, mastery, and heightened self-esteem, by playing video games. Higher levels of engagement are experienced with games that provide clear goals and immediate feedback to players.
3. Spot train your brain: seek to understand your daily medication dosing patterns or use a bus schedule to plan a trip.
4. Combat negative moods: be familiar with the symptoms of depression or anxiety, identify when you are experiencing them, and keep handy those things that make you happy.
5. Engage: participate in life, as opposed to just “being on a rocking chair.” See what opportunities your local senior, recreation, or community center offer.
Dementia is a fear for many people all over the world. Research shows that there is an increase in dementia internationally with advancing age. Marsiske says that even though the majority of people will not experience dementia, rates continue to grow. One of the things that causes cognitive aging, he says, is disuse.
Dr. Michael Marsiske is Associate Professor in the Department of Clinical and Health Psychology at the University of Florida. He received his PhD from the Pennsylvania State University in 1992 in Human Development and Family Studies. He followed this with a postdoctoral felllowship in Psychology and Human Development at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Education in Berlin from 1992 to 1995. Prior to joining the University of Florida in 2000, Dr. Marsiske was an Assistant Professor of Gerontology and Psychology at Wayne State University.