What Causes an Early Decline in Our Cognitive Ability?

Mild Cognitive Impairment [MCI] is defined as a decrease in overall cognitive function [memory, language, reasoning, judgment etc] beyond what you would expect in an otherwise healthy aging adult.

According to the Center for Disease Control, 50% of the population shows some initial symptoms of MCI by age 40. Let's look at the causes. The human brain has roughly 100 billion neurons and we lose 70,000 to 90,000 a day [about one every second]. This loss can be significantly increased by the following.

  1. Physical Inactivity – Enemy number one. Numerous studies have shown that physical inactivity leads to an early decline in cognitive function. This is made even worse when the individual remains in the same environment. Those undergoing a long convalescence or living in senior homes and those with a sedentary habitual lifestyle are particularly at risk. Are you or someone you love a “couch potato”?
  2. Toxic Exposure – chronic exposure to many common chemicals, insecticides, mercury, lead and other heavy metals. All of these substances are neurotoxins [they damage the central and peripheral nervous systems]. Once inside the body, heavy metals cannot be excreted. Only some form of active therapy will rid your body of them. What insecticides or pesticides do you use around your home? Do you have a mouthful of silver fillings? [They contain mercury.]
  3. Sleep Disturbances – with rare exception adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep. Numerous sleep deprivation studies show that cognitive test scores drop by 30% after 24hrs of sleep deprivation and drop by 60% if individuals are allowed 5 hours or less sleep for 5 consecutive nights. How many hours of quality sleep do you get each night?
  4. Psychiatric Disorders – depression, anxiety and chronic stress significantly decrease intellectual ability. Stress releases a large amount of the hormone cortisol, which destroys the connections between the neurons. What daily stress control methods do you use?
  5. Infections – many infections and in particular viruses cross the blood-brain barrier and decrease mental functioning. Prevention is the key here.
  6. Trauma— recent studies have shown that you do not need to be knocked unconscious or show a single sign of concussion to sustain permanent neurological damage. Even minor repetitive head trauma has a cumulative effect on damaging cognitive function. How many times does your child head the ball in soccer practice?
  7. Medications – many prescription and over the counter medications cross the blood-brain barrier, accumulate in the neural tissue and decrease attention, concentration, focus etc. even though their intended target is some other area of the body. Do you go to work loaded with cold, flu or allergy medications?
  8. Vitamin & Mineral Deficiencies – the depletion of our soils and high processing of food has resulted in a significant increase in deficiencies. Acid reflux medications [Pepsid, Prilosec, Tagamet, Nexium] block Vit B12 absorption and decrease memory. How "brain healthy" is your diet? 

MCI is seldom caused by just one of the above; it is usually a combination of two or more. The good news is that MCI can be reversed!