Posted by on July 25, 2014 - 2:55pm

By: Christie Hunter

It is becoming a concern in many sectors that the population is aging as the baby boomers are one of the largest segments of the population. One of the parts of this is looking at cognitive ability and mental health in this demographic.  Helping people in their later years to maintain both physical and mental health is a public health issue. Older people are prone to depression and dementia, and research is showing that there are steps that can be taken to help alleviate the symptoms of both of these. This article will highlight some of the research and what this research points to in regard to preventing cognitive decline.

Zanjani, Kruger, and Murray (2012), discuss the organization Mental Healthiness Aging Initiatives.  This organization promotes education, awareness and action in regard to mental health in elderly rural adults. They have found that mental health problems and drug use can be problems found in this population.  In addition, 50% of this demographic may suffer from depression which has been found to decrease life expectancy by as many as 25 years.  Because of these findings, it becomes prudent that focusing on these problems and the problems of aging in general would be well advised.

Research is beginning to also focus more on healthy aging as more of the population is getting older (Bryant, et al., 2012). Successful aging is defined with a number of components.  These include a lack of disability, good general health and mental health, social function, and a lack of dementia.  These authors see attitudes toward aging as being an important factor in these components. Negative attitudes toward aging can lead to depression. On the other hand, positive and optimistic attitudes to aging meant better life satisfaction and better physical health. Health care professionals can increase more positive outlooks on aging by educating patients about activities that can help keep mind and body young.

In the same vein, Carlson, el al. (2012) discusses activities and memory.  Some of the listed activities for better cognitive functioning include reading books, doing crosswords, and taking classes that are often offered through local colleges.  Seniors should also think about volunteer activity, joining into activities at community centers that are geared toward the aging population, and other social connections.  The authors state that more than frequency, intensity, and duration of an activity that the most important component is to engage in a diverse routine of many of these activities for more positive cognitive outcomes.  They suggest that activities like this may be even more important for women than for men, given their longer life expectancies and increased likelihood of decline in cognitive functions.  The authors note that one barrier to this can be that women are more likely to be caretakers which can impede their abilities to find the time to devote to developing healthy brain routines.

From a physical and brain functioning aspect, Deslandes, et al. (2009), suggest that exercise is also an important undertaking in aging. Exercise has been shown to be correlated with better brain function. It should be noted that any type of physical activity is preferable to no activity at all. There are specific approaches to helping people become more active.    In addition, water exercises are usually a good alternative for those with arthritis and joint pain and programs specifically for seniors are often found at the local YMCA. Short walks, stretches, even owning a pet can increase physical activity in seniors.

Cook (2007) suggests that any and all of these approaches are a good idea for all ages of people. Routines are easier to adhere to when they have been in place for a longer period of time. Starting at a younger age can benefit the mental health of most age groups. According to Cook (2007) exercises that improve logic, processing, memory, and intellectual development should be the aim. Games focusing on analytical thinking are a good place to start. These include word games like Scrabble, chess and checkers, and even the children’s game Memory. Many times a google search can lead to online computer games and software available to develop these skills.

Aging is an inevitable part of the life cycle. Learning to navigate it can be challenging. Health care professionals should be advised to do what they can to encourage some of the activities outlined above. It is much easier to prevent physical and mental health problems than it is to treat them once they have taken over. The population is aging due to the baby boomers and this fact should not be ignored. Many of these people have lived long successful lives, and helping them to maintain a good quality of life should be a priority.

By Christie Hunter



Bryant, C., Bei, B., Gilson, K., Komiti, A., Jackson, H., & Judd, F. (2012). The relationship between attitudes to aging and physical and mental health in older adults. International Psychogeriatrics, 24(10), 1674-83.

Carlson, M. C., Parisi, J. M., Xia, J., Xue, Q., Rebok, G. W., Bandeen-Roche, K., & Fried, L. P. (2012). Lifestyle activities and memory: Variety may be the spice of life. The women's health and aging study II. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society: JINS, 18(2), 286-94.

Cook, Linda J. (2007). Exercises for mental wellness: Couldn't we all benefit? Journal of Psychosocial Nursing & Mental Health Services, 45(5), 8-9.

Deslandes, A., Moraes, H., Ferreira, C., Veiga, H., Silveira, H., Mouta, R., Laks, J. (2009). Exercise and mental health: Many reasons to move. Neuropsychobiology, 59(4), 191-8.

Zanjani, F., Kruger, T., & Murray, D. (2012). Evaluation of the mental healthiness aging initiative: Community program to promote awareness about mental health and aging issues. Community Mental Health Journal, 48(2), 193-201.

Posted by on August 8, 2013 - 3:24pm

The need for health care varies greatly over a lifespan, with older adults having significantly more health-related needs and costs than younger individuals. Women, in particular, often face a myriad of health problems as they transition through menopause.  Sadly, despite the fact that every woman will go through menopause, very little is understood about the physical and mental changes that occur during this period of life.  In addition, women may struggle to find pharmaceutical solutions, which can safely provide proven relief without the worry that those available will increase their likelihood of other health and mental complications.

Much is misunderstood about menopause and the changes that are associated with the hormonal fluctuations. This is largely due to the fact this inevitable transition is rarely apart of the conversation, particularly in the context of health care. Further, menopause is expected to be merely “bothersome”; not something one could attribute real health problems to. Although maternity care and issues related to younger women are required in the Affordable Care Act as essential health benefits, nothing of legislative note will improve the knowledge and acceptance of this natural life progression.

Most insurance companies do not even cover basic medications associated with menopausal symptoms, and conflicting research has women scared about the potential long-term effects associated with hormone replacement therapy. Negative press, little medical literature and low financial assistance often leaves women to suffer through menopause silently, many of whom worry constantly about memory deficits they experience and potential long term changes.

A recent study focused on the memory complaints of midlife women has been receiving a lot of attention. The study, conducted at the University of Illinois- at Chicago (UIC), attempted to determine if women who are experiencing hot flushes during menopause were able to accurately predict their own memory performance.

According to the principal author, Lauren Drogos, “We found that a one-item question: ‘How would you rate your memory in terms of the kinds of problems that you have?’ was the best predictor of verbal memory performance on a list-learning task.  We also found that many complaints were related to mood symptoms.”

In the US, the average woman becomes postmenopausal around the age of 51.  Common symptoms that occur include hot flushes, sleep disturbances, mood changes and memory problems. However, until recently it was believed that women were unable to accurately describe the current state of their memory and the changes they experience as they progress through menopause.

Despite the difficulty in being taken seriously about the physical and mental challenges that menopause presents, this recent study from Drogos, along with other research, shows that woman are able to accurately describe their current memory abilities. Specifically, a group of sixty-eight women performed a series of memory tests and were then asked, to detail the types of memory problems they were experiencing. The study concluded that women were able to accurately rank themselves on a scale from no memory problems to severe problems.

Using recall of a short story, the deficits seen in memory did not indicate that women were suffering from dementia, nor were they experiencing shortfalls in memory that were impacting daily life. Instead, it was simply indicative that women who experienced memory deficits often recognized the changes occurring.

Previous research focusing on women’s transitions through menopause also found that hot flushes during the nighttime were the best predictors of memory performance in women. This leads researchers within the Women’s Mental Health Research Program at UIC, to believe that sleep disturbances and stress hormones may play integral roles in memory and hot flushes.

The good news for women concerned about the transition through menopause is that the cognitive decline that occurs appears to only be temporary, with performance rebounding early into post-menopause. Further, for those who want to keep both their minds and bodies at peak performance, research indicates that leading a non-sedentary lifestyle, keeping mentally active, and having a healthy diet can be the best preventers of cognitive decline.  To learn more about menopause, visit, a new web site that helps women evaluate their overall health and menopause symptoms.

Posted by on September 10, 2012 - 9:04am

New research shows that women with Alzheimer’s disease show worse mental deterioration than men, even when at the same stage of the the disease.

According to researchers at the University of Hertfordshire, men with Alzheimer’s consistently performed better than women across the five cognitive areas they examined.

Most remarkably, the verbal skills of women with Alzheimer’s are worse when compared to men with the disease.   This finding is a striking difference to the profile for the healthy population where females have a distinct advantage.

Led by Keith Laws, Ph.D., the research team completed a meta-analysis of neurocognitive data from 15 published studies, which revealed a consistent male advantage on verbal and visuospatial tasks, as well as on tests of both episodic memory and semantic memory.

Episodic memory describes our ability to recall specific events of our own past, accompanied by the feeling of remembering. Semantic memory is knowledge that we acquire that is purely factual without any personal feeling or history attached.

“Unlike mental decline associated with normal aging, something about Alzheimer’s specifically disadvantages women,” said Laws, a psychology professor.

The influence of hormones might be a possible explanation, he said, pointing to a loss of estrogen in women. Another theory is that men have a “greater cognitive reserve” that protects against the disease, he said.  Further analysis of the data showed that age, education level and dementia severity did not explain the advantage that men with the disease have over women, he added.

Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive condition affecting memory, thinking, behavior and emotion, is the most common form of dementia.

Alzheimer’s Disease International estimates that there are currently 30 million people in the world with dementia, with 4.6 million new cases every year. The incidence of Alzheimer’s is greater among women than men, with the difference increasing with age, researchers note.

The new study was published in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology.

Source: University of Hertfordshire