December 5, 2018

As we age, some mental changes are par for the course. As Harvard Health points out, it’s natural to start to notice some changes in the way you remember things as you get older, and,

“…fleeting memory problems that we experience with age reflect normal changes in the structure and function of the brain. These changes can slow certain cognitive processes, making it a bit harder to learn new things quickly or screen out distractions that can interfere with memory and learning.”

The occasional bout of confusion or forgetfulness is very different from severe cognitive decline or memory impairment, caused by Alzheimer’s Disease, or another form of dementia. For more on the distinction between normal mental changes and dementia, the National Alliance on Aging (NIA) has a great guide, available here.

Now, with all this being said, even normal levels of memory loss can be frustrating and frightening for seniors. It’s only natural to want to protect and preserve your mental capacity for as long as possible, so that you can stay sharp, active, and engaged with the world around you.

What are some of the steps that older adults can take to stay mentally sharp with age? And what can family or professional caregivers do to help? Here are five expert-approved ideas that may be worth a try:

Get Plenty of Exercise

Getting a healthy amount of exercise can not only benefit your body, but your brain. Focusing on your fitness is a great way to stay mentally sharp, as well as physically active.

Getting a regular amount of exercise has been shown to help increase blood flow to the brain, while also cutting down on the risk from serious cardiovascular conditions, such as high cholesterol, unhealthy blood sugar levels, and high blood pressure, which have all been connected to cognitive decline and an increased risk for developing dementia.

Eat a Healthy Diet

The old adage that “you are what you eat” has stuck around for a reason! In general, the more healthfully you eat, the lower your risk for developing serious cognitive issues, according to a significant body of research. Broadly speaking, seniors should focus on eating a nutritionally balanced diet, in order to keep their bodies and minds operating at their peak. There are also certain foods that have been connected to improved brain health and function, including fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, seafood, and nuts.

Stay Social

The more that seniors feel connected to other people, the better – especially when it comes to their mental health. As the Alzheimer’s Association points out:

“Social engagement is associated with reduced rates of disability and mortality, and may also reduce risk for depression. Remaining socially active may support brain health and possibly delay the onset of dementia.”

And there are all sorts of ways that you can help the older adult in your life foster and maintain social connections!

Making time for regular in-person visits or phone calls can help your elderly loved one feel more connected to you, for instance. You can also coordinate visits among family or friends nearby. Hiring a professional in-home companion is also a great way to ensure that your loved one is never far from a friendly face and a great conversation, while also ensuring that they have support and assistance for their routine activities of daily living (ADLs). Finally, if possible, think about how you can help your senior loved ones get out into the community, whether that means regularly attending religious services, becoming a part of a community group or volunteer organization, or attending a game night with friends in the area.

Learn Something New, or Take Up a Hobby

You’re never too old to start something new – and the benefits for your mental acuity and wellbeing could be enormous.

As Harvard Health notes, challenging your brain with mental exercise “is believed to activate processes that help maintain individual brain cells and stimulate communication among them.”

As we wind down our professional careers and move into retirement, it’s easy to stop getting our brains the amount of stimulation that they need. Attending classes in-person or online, or taking up a new hobby – such as drawing or painting, playing chess, landscaping or gardening, writing stories, or playing music – can be a great way to engage many different parts your brain, and stay sharp for years to come.

Train Your Brain

Puzzles and games are fun, but they can also have significant effect on your brain health and mental sharpness. Early studies suggest that engaging “brain games” can help seniors stay mentally active, and potentially even minimize their risk for developing dementia over time. You may wish to play mentally challenging or stimulating games, or create “games” for yourself. For instance, as Harvard Health points out, seniors often benefit mentally from using all of their senses. An idea to stay sharp, then, may be to:

“…Challenge all your senses as you venture into the unfamiliar. For example, try to guess the ingredients as you smell and taste a new restaurant dish. Give sculpting or ceramics a try, noticing the feel and smell of the materials you’re using.”

What Do You Do to Stay Sharp?

Do you have any favorite hobbies, habits, or tricks you use to stay mentally sharp, or help a loved one do the same? We’d love to hear your ideas over on Facebook!

And If you have a loved one who you believe may benefit from socializing with a friendly face, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Companions for Seniors today. Our professional in-home caregivers can assist your senior loved one with meal preparation, driving, and housekeeping, while also serving as a valued friend and companion. Our companions are trained, bonded, and insured, and are always ready to be there for your loved one, whether to chat, go out on an excursion, or help them keep up with a new hobby.