Many people view the senior years of life as a time when it is too late to make improvements in physical or mental health. This is far from true. In fact, the brain retains a certain level of “plasticity” at every age. Cognitive growth and learning new skills are always possibilities. The way to accomplish both is by continuing to train your brain on a regular basis.
Building a Reserve of Cognitive Skills
Over time, brain cells are impacted by age, illness and other factors. This can cause some loss of cognitive abilities. For some people, the end result is a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. While researchers continue to make new discoveries about this disease, there is no definitive answer yet as to how to prevent it. However, building up a reserve of cognitive skills does seem to help. Embracing new activities that force you to learn, grow and develop different skills seems to be one way to keep the brain healthy.
Physical Activity and Brain Health
Research has shown that physical activity boosts memory and brain health. We do not fully understand why exactly, but it seems to be some combination of getting the body moving and blood flowing and the mental challenges that completing or seeing success with a physical activity require.
An exercise like yoga, for example, is often a cardiovascular workout. It also requires a certain amount of thinking as a person learns new poses and remembers routines. Mindful breathing is also important. As a person continues to take yoga classes, confidence is boosted, and they experience motivation and a sense of purpose as they work to get better.
Other Activities Improve Cognitive Functioning
While exercise is an excellent brain building activity, it is not the only option. Painting, drawing, learning a language or completing puzzles are all options for improving cognitive functioning. All can help with memory recall, brain stimulation and healthy aging of the mind.
Find an Interest
Seniors working to keep their brains healthy are encouraged to take up activities that interest them. It is also beneficial to find something that matches well with their physical ability and level of support. A person in a wheelchair, for instance, likely would not see much success if their goal was to begin running. Without support from family, friends or a professional caregiver, a senior with early stage dementia might feel frustrated and give up quickly if complex puzzles or Sudoku was their activity of choice.
Do Something Challenging
While taking on a challenge that is not physically or cognitively possible is a mistake, the activity does need to be challenging in some ways. New challenges help the brain to grow. Discovering these challenges is easily accomplished either by taking up a new activity or committing to getting better at an activity that you are already enjoying. For instance, a casual golfer might decide to practice and enter a tournament. A person who is regularly completing 500 piece puzzles might move up to 1000 or more.
The level of complexity involved in the activity also matters. One that is more complex builds problem solving skills and encourages creative thinking. A 2013 study in Psychological Science found that individuals 60 to 90 years of age who participated in new and complex activities for about 16 hours each week over a period of three months scored better on working and long-term memory tests than those who stuck with activities that they were more familiar with.
With any of these activities, practice is important. Staying involved with an activity over a longer period of time has a more positive impact on cognitive stimulation and memory than trying an activity just once or twice. The key is to keep engaging the brain. As with many organs in the body, you either use it or you lose it when it comes to cerebral health.
Regardless of your age, working to keep your brain healthy offers many benefits. Make it a point to try new activities, and find at least one that feels complex yet possible to work on regularly. Then, commit to sticking with it and challenging yourself. If you need support or companionship, ask a family member, a friend or the trusted professionals at Salus Homecare Los Angeles. Together, we can improve aging and brain health so that seniors everywhere enjoy their highest quality of life.
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