Article at a Glance
- Minor memory loss and increased fatigue are some of the symptoms of cognitive aging that may already start to manifest in your 30’s.
- The brain begins to physically change in early adulthood, which may manifest in changes to your cognitive abilities.
- Research-based methods that improve cognition can aid in reducing the impact of aging on your brain.
Have you started having a harder time remembering things in your 30’s? If you’re in your late 30’s, your memory may be beginning to dip, a process that can continue in the decades ahead [R]. You may also feel more fatigued, slower at problem-solving, or even depressed. These are just some of the symptoms that can result from the transformations happening in your aging brain.
Let’s explore what those mental changes at 30 are and what you can do proactively to put the brakes on mental aging.
The Brain’s Structure and Function
The brain is made up of cells called neurons. Neurons communicate with each other via neurotransmitters to convey signals that ultimately lead to a response.
The speed with which a signal travels from one neuron to the next depends on the presence of a myelin sheath, which insulates neurons and makes signals travel a lot faster. Neurons that have a myelin sheath are collectively referred to as white matter, while those that don’t are called gray matter.
The brain is also subdivided into different regions, or lobes, each responsible for specific functions. The frontal lobes, for example, control skills such as memory, language, attention, and motion [R].
Physical Changes of the Brain
Starting around age 35, the volume of the brain starts to shrink at a rate of 0.2% per year, and accelerates to 0.5% loss yearly after the age of 60 [R]. This is partially due to the shrinkage or death of neurons in the gray matter. In addition, the myelin sheaths start to deteriorate in the white matter [R].
According to research, there are easy ways to reduce age-associated volume loss in the brain. For example, omega-3 fatty acids effectively enhance brain repair and neurogenesis (the production of more neurons) [R].
Slower Thought Processes
Any stimulus that comes at us, be it visual, auditory, or tactile, is received by our brain, then the brain processes and responds to it. The speed with which a response starts peaks in your twenties, and then progressively declines [R].
In order to reduce the slowing of thought processes, a combination of supplements lutein and zeaxanthin can be used. These supplements enhance many cognitive functions, including processing speed, by improving communication between neurons [R]. In addition, there are some computer and phone-based cognitive training games that significantly improve cognitive skills, including processing speed. For example, the application Luminosity was found to enhance processing speed in healthy individuals [R].
Memory is a very abstract skill that is yet to be completely understood. What is known is that different subtypes of memory (such as episodic, semantic and short-term) are localized in different sites of the brain. When any of these memory-related sections are affected by changes seen with age, memory declines.
For example, the hippocampus is a key region involved in memory formation [R]. The age-associated loss of neurons in the hippocampus is one of the reasons memory declines [R, R]. While this cell loss is part of normal aging, it can result in the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Dopamine levels further contribute to a slipping memory. Dopamine levels drop at a rate of 10% per decade, starting in early adulthood [R]. This neurotransmitter is involved in many functions throughout the body, one of which is memory production. Therefore, memory formation weakened when less dopamine is around.
Another cause of changes in memory is the production of proteins called beta-amyloid. High levels of beta-amyloid lead to the creation of a sticky mass in the brain that is tightly linked with the memory loss seen in Alzheimer’s disease [R, R].
Improving dopamine levels can reduce the extent of age-related memory decline. Ways to enhance dopamine include massage therapy and meditation, which were shown to increase dopamine production by 31% and 65%, respectively [R, R]. Additionally, recent studies show that omega-3 fatty acids promote the clearance of beta-amyloid from the brain and enhance memory performance [R, R].
Sleep is essential for mental health [R]. Unfortunately, impaired sleep becomes increasingly common with age and is a major contributing factor to fatigue and depression. Depressed mood, poor memory, and impaired concentration also result from insufficient sleep [R].
With age, deep sleep decreases and nighttime awakenings increase, leading to poor sleep [R]. The frequency of overall sleep loss also increases with age [R]. Chronic disturbances in sleep are linked to an increased risk for many diseases, including type II diabetes, hypertension, obesity, depression, heart attack, and stroke [R].
There are some evidence-backed supplements for better sleep. Zinc supplements are effective in improving sleep quality and sleep duration [R, R]. Melatonin supplementation has also been shown to improve the onset, duration, and quality of sleep [R].
Lower Testosterone Effects Cognition
Testosterone is a hormone that decreases with age at a rate of 1%-2% per year after the ages 30-40 [R, R]. Studies on middle-aged men link lower levels of testosterone with poorer mental health, including poor cognitive performance (like loss of concentration), memory loss, depression, fatigue, low libido, and insomnia [R, R].
Low testosterone levels can be managed through weight loss, sleep improvement, and stress reduction [R]. Furthermore, testosterone replacement therapy increases testosterone levels and leads to significant improvements in cognitive functioning [R, R].
Alternative Methods to Improve Cognition
While the above mentioned evidence-backed therapies are targeted at specific mental aspects, here we elucidate some additional proven ways to gain overall mental improvement.
Diet is crucial when it comes to well-being, and the mind is no exception. The Mediterranean diet is well documented for its health benefits, which include reducing the risk for cognitive impairment [R].
Another relatively recent method called photobiomodulation, or transcranial laser, produces beneficial cognitive effects. It’s a non-invasive treatment (essentially shining a light on the head) that can be applied to healthy individuals to induce positive cognitive results, such as improved reaction times, improved memory, and a positive emotional state [R].
Finally, physical exercise has strong effects on the brain, too. It induces both structural and functional changes, leading to enhanced cognitive functioning. By increasing blood flow and oxygen delivery in the brain, it promotes neuron formation and maintenance of brain volume, providing protection against neurodegeneration[R, R].
Aging well means prioritizing your mental health. While you may not experience significant effects of mental changes in your 30s, you can proactively apply methods that can help your mind age as optimally as possible.
You can browse through our list of longevity and health clinics to get started on taking control of the aging of your brain.
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