As you age it’s important to remember that taking care of your mind is just as important as taking care of your body. Today, Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia affect more than 5 million elders in the U.S. Many elders are also at risk of developing neurological and mental health disorders, especially dementia and depression. The need for elders to focus on brain health has never been greater.
Thankfully, there are proactive steps you can take to keep your brain healthy and reduce your risk of developing dementia, depression, or other mental conditions. Adopting specific healthy lifestyle activities such as learning new skills, staying socially engaged, doing puzzles, and eating well, will help preserve brain function. A lack of stimulation can cause a gradual decline in cognitive abilities and lead to health and safety issues such as memory loss and falls – the leading cause of serious injury and death among elders over age 65.
Here are five ways you can keep up your mental fitness:
Practice using your memory
Practice using your memory. Regularly engaging in memory exercises can help improve both short and long-term recall. Make a list of grocery items, for example, and do your best to memorize it – then test yourself an hour later to see how many items you remember.
Research has shown that brain-training games can help keep elders sharp for as many as 10 years longer. Whether it’s the daily crossword puzzle, Sudoku, Scrabble or something else, try games and puzzles that challenge you. If you are looking for online resources, AARP has a library of brain games on their website and DailyCaring has free large-print crossword puzzles for elders.
Never stop learning
Never stop learning. Taking on a new hobby or skill can improve both cognitive functioning and your sense of well being as you age. Learning a foreign language, for example, is a process of listening and internalizing new sounds which stimulates the brain.
This is also true of new artistic or athletic pursuits – whether it’s dancing, cooking, painting, tennis, martial arts, or a musical instrument you’ve always wanted to learn – cultivating a new hobby is an excellent way to keep your mind active and learning. Consider taking a class at a local college, community center or online.
Seek out social interaction
Seek out social interaction. Friends and family are a medicine that’s necessary for everyone in all age brackets. But they are especially necessary medicine for elders. It’s important to have a social support network you can call upon as you age. This gives you an opportunity to be socially active and avoid loneliness, which may lead to depression.
Elders are less likely to develop both depression and dementia if they have a social support network. Invite loved ones to spend time together or call them if they’re far away, join a club, volunteer at a local hospital or animal shelter, find out what activities are being held in your community or religious group. Maintaining social connections is one of the most effective ways to keep your mind busy and engaged.
Maintain physical fitness and a healthy diet
Maintain physical fitness and a healthy diet. An active, healthy body is critical in maintaining an active, healthy mind. Recent Alzheimer’s research suggests that making certain lifestyle changes can do more to ward off memory loss than drugs or medical treatments.
The Harvard Health article, “Foods linked to better brainpower,” provides a variety of brain-healthy food choices that you can incorporate into your meals. Eating a balanced, healthy diet, getting sufficient sleep and exercising is key to maximizing brain function and improving overall health. Regular physical activity and exercise benefits both the mind and body. Cardiovascular activity such as a brisk walk increases both heart rate and blood flow, which in turn promotes the growth of brain cells.
Check out our Nutrition section for Indigenous recipe books and cooking demonstrations by Native chefs. Read more about the many benefits of physical fitness on our Exercise for Elders page, where you can also watch videos on how to turn traditional dances into step-by-step exercise routines.
Know where to get help if you need it
Know where to get help if you need it. Become familiar with the signs of depression and seek professional help right away if you think you or a loved one is depressed. Seniors At Home offers both individual counseling and support groups, offering a safe space to explore difficult thoughts and feelings. If you or a loved one are experiencing memory loss on a regular basis, seek council from your physician. Seniors At Home’s Center for Dementia Care provides personalized care plans for people with dementia-related conditions, as well as practical and emotional support for families.
Check out this special “Telephone Town Hall” livestream on brain health with the National Indian Council on Aging (NICOA), AARP and the Global Council on Brain Health. NICOA Executive Director Larry Curley, AARP’s Mashell Sourjohn of community outreach and Sarah Lock of policy and brain health, discuss the five pillars of brain health and debunking myths about the aging brain. Find out how you and your loved ones can maintain your brain health as you age.