As we get older, it’s common to experience changes in cognitive function. Maybe you find yourself pausing more as you search for the right word, or it takes a little longer each morning to find your car keys.

The good news is, you can fight these setbacks in mental ability. There is a term for the brain’s ability to resist deteriorating cognitive function due to aging: cognitive resilience.

“Cognitive resilience is about maintaining your structural brain health,” explained Elizabeth K. Geary, PhD, a neuropsychologist with Endeavor Health. “A person shows cognitive resilience when, despite their age, there are no discernible changes in memory, language, attention or processing speed that negatively impact their ability to function.”

Promoting cognitive resilience allows your brain to resist the loss of brain cells due to inflammation, thereby changing the structure of your brain. Preserving structural brain health promotes your brain's ability to engage in critical cognitive functions like new learning and memory formation.

It’s important to note that as we age, our brains naturally change in brain structure and result in changes in cognitive function. For example, it’s age-appropriate to rely more heavily on a calendar to keep appointments. “Challenges in ‘remembering to remember’ are different from forgetting something that has happened,” explained Dr. Geary.

In day-to-day life, a loss of cognitive resilience can look like “room amnesia,” when one walks into a room but can’t remember why they are there. It can also include changes in short-term memory, difficulties finding the right word or a decline in reasoning, planning or judgment.

Significant memory changes might look like repetitive questioning, an inability to recall the details of conversations, getting lost more easily or not remembering past events. An individual may find routine tasks start to require more time, or they become uncharacteristically overwhelmed by more complex tasks.

Thankfully, you can implement simple lifestyle changes in order to promote cognitive resilience. These include exercising regularly, engaging in cognitively-stimulating activities, and a healthy diet high in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables and low saturated fats.

On the other hand, one can reduce their cognitive resilience via a sedentary lifestyle, a loss of social engagement and cognitive stimulation, an over-reliance on passive entertainment like television or video games, a poor diet and smoking. Poor management of medical conditions like diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and depression can also increase one’s risk of developing dementia.

In her upcoming book Remembery, Dr. Geary reminds readers that promoting brain health and cognitive resilience is a marathon, not a sprint.

“Don’t attempt to make dramatic changes all at once,” she said. “Even modest modifications like switching to olive oil from butter or light daily exercise can have big results — your brain will thank you!”