Like the rest of our bodies, our brains change with age. Fortunately, there is a growing understanding of not only how our brains change as we age, but good habits we can develop to preserve cognitive function in our older years.
Cognitive Health and Aging
Our bodies naturally become a little bit slower with age, and the brain changes similarly, meaning that some cognitive slowdown is completely normal.
For example, struggling to come up with a specific word in conversation, temporarily losing an item around the home, or forgetting what day it is occasionally are all totally normal experiences for people at any age. The real red flags for cognitive decline include being unable to maintain conversations regularly, permanently losing items around the house, or frequently being unable to remember dates or the time of year.
Preserving cognitive ability – use it or lose it
The key to maintaining good cognitive function in later years is to remain active. Below are some simple (and fun!) ways to keep your mind limber.
Stay socially active
Studies show that seniors with active social lives are much less likely to develop dementia and other cognitive impairments.
Getting out of the house to attend social events, visit friends or take part in community events, volunteer, or attend religious services are all great ways to keep in contact with others.
If you are unable to get out into the world, dialing friends and family is a great alternative. Video call services like Facetime are particularly valuable, as they make calls more mentally engaging.
Learn a new skill
The act of learning new information or skills can have a major effect on mental plasticity and memory and can be a fun process to boot!
Ask yourself if there are any activities you have always wanted to do, like painting, knitting, getting better with your phone or computer, or learning a new game and dive in. If you are not feeling adventurous, even something as simple as trying a new recipe from a cookbook you haven’t opened in years can be a great starting mental exercise.
Whether it be chess, checkers, Sudoku, puzzles, backgammon, or a video game, playing games can improve a variety of mental functions, including decision-making, short-term memory, and processing speed. Consider finding a group in your area that plays games that interest you, or jump online for even easier access to new challenges.
Your brain depends on good blood flow to do its job, and that means maintaining good cardiovascular health is key to long-term mental health.
Light aerobic activity like walking, swimming, jogging, dancing, or cycling can all have long-lasting impacts on both your physical and mental health. Just be sure to stretch before any strenuous activity and consider speaking to your doctor about safe exercise plans tailored to your needs and ability.
Get better sleep
Maintaining a healthy sleep schedule is key to maintaining long-term cognitive health, but be careful not to overdo it!
Sleeping too much can be almost as bad for your mental and physical health as sleeping too little. Most adults 65 and older should aim for about 8 hours of sleep every night.
If you struggle to get to sleep, consider disconnecting from electronic devices at least an hour before bed, setting a regular bedtime (that you actually follow!), getting more exercise during the day, and avoiding non-sleep activities (like watching television) while in bed.
Talk to your doctor
Chronic illnesses and the medication used to treat them can have impacts on your mobility, sleep, mood, and diet – all of which can have impacts on your ability to remain physically and mentally active.
Be sure to periodically review your medication regime with your doctor to avoid adverse side effects and be open with the challenges you are experiencing on a day-to-day basis. Good conversations with your doctor can help identify risk factors early, and screening for illnesses can ensure they are treated before they impact your ability to perform mentally-stimulating activities.
Home Health Care and Cognitive Health
Many older adults find the presence of an in-home caregiver a valuable tool in remaining mentally active.
Having a caregiver in the home is a great source of social engagement (and friendly board game competition) without traveling, and can make it easier for a senior to learn new technology to stay connected with family and friends. Caregivers can also assist in traveling to social events, grabbing groceries for kitchen projects, and tackling day-to-day errands and chores that might prevent an older adult from engaging in more stimulating activities.
In addition to companionship and engagement, home caregivers can be a critical link between an older adult, their family and medical care network, as they will likely spend more time with a senior than anyone else, and can help spot warning signs of cognitive decline or illness long before their client’s next medical appointment.
SelectCare has helped New Yorkers stay active and engaged in their long-time homes for more than 37 years. To learn how SelectCare can help you and your family, call SelectCare today to learn about our caregiver selection process and in-home care services, or download our free in-home care guide.