Many articles have been written on the basics of how to keep a mind active. Obvious ideas are exercise, diet, sleep well, or reading a book. While I will discuss some of these as they are all top choices in every article I researched, I have scoured the internet for other unique tips to help keep a senior mind active. Keep reading to learn more.
1. Change hands when completing a task.
Have you ever tried to brush your teeth with the opposite hand? It is difficult! However, when you change from your regular activities it helps to build new neural connections in the brain and helps to stimulate the mind. It may feel awkward at first but practice makes perfect.
2. Find new ways to stimulate your mind
Whether that be reading, taking a course, word puzzles, math problems or new tasks that require the person to focus creatively; such as, painting, sculpting, woodworking or other craft hobbies. This helps develop the plasticity in the brain and will continue to produce new connections between different areas of the brain. This helps to increase communication, reduce mental fatigue and slows down future cell loss. The worst thing you can do to your brain is to repeat the same tasks everyday or continue to watch TV throughout the day that provides no critical thinking skills and will worsen symptoms.
3. Check your blood pressure
As we age, we get less physical exercise and many times we are taking multiple medications for a variety of reasons. High blood pressure in midlife increases the risk of cognitive decline in old age. Stress, smoking and chronic alcohol use can increase blood pressure. Start to make daily changes to reduce stress levels. Exercising will help to increase blood circulation and makes the heart stronger. Keeping your BMI or weight at a normal average will help as well. Those that carry more weight in our mid section (closer to our heart) usually will have higher blood pressure. Maintain a healthy diet and check with your doctor regularly on other tips. If medication is needed, make sure you take the recommended dose as prescribed daily and no not cease medication cold turkey. This can create more stress to the heart. Always talk to your primary doctor on any type of medication changes especially if you have a history of high blood pressure.
4. Watch your blood sugar
If you eat right, exercise and stay within the average BMI for weight you can help prevent diabetes. Diabetes is an important risk factor for dementia. “Diabetes is a disease in which your blood glucose, or blood sugar, levels are too high. Glucose comes from the foods you eat. Insulin is a hormone that helps the glucose get into your cells to give them energy.” But if your blood sugar stays high, you’ll need medication to achieve good control.
5. Improve your cholesterol
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that’s found in all the cells in your body. Your liver makes cholesterol, and it is also in some foods, such as meat and dairy products. Your body needs some cholesterol to work properly. But having too much cholesterol in your blood raises your risk of coronary artery disease. Coronary artery disease happens when plaque builds up in the arteries of your heart. This will slow down or block blood flow to your heart eventually causing a heart attack if blood flow is completely blocked. Again, diet, exercise, cease tobacco use and keeping a healthy weight can help improve LDL cholesterol levels. Discussing options with your doctor would be a good idea to see if medication or other alternative treatment options are needed.
6. Stop tobacco use.
Seriously, it’s not good for anyone. Just do it. Check out this resource from SmokeFree.gov on Steps to Manage Quit Day.
7. Drink alcohol in moderation
There is evidence that 1-2 drinks in moderation is fine. Drinking alcohol daily and in excess can become a big problem. Memory loss from chronic binge drinking is very common. Falls, stumbles or accidents can occur more regularly since alcohol impairs the senses and physical coordination. Excessive drinking is a risk factor for dementia and thiamine deficiency. A deficiency in the essential nutrient thiamine can result from chronic alcohol consumption and is one factor underlying alcohol–induced brain damage (National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism).
8. Maintain good posture for core strength and balance
This tip comes from NCHPAD.com, they note that “balance will decrease slightly over years and you may not think about it. However, if you have noticed changes in your posture, step width and height while walking, or you feel unsteady getting up and walking, chances are your balance systems are not working as effectively as they could.” They also note that “Posture is key to being able to safely perform balance exercises; hence, a great place to begin balance training is by analyzing your posture.” All these items are interconnected as the brain controls the muscle groups that help to promote good posture and balance. Being mindful of this can help you remember to stand taller, focus on proper form and good posture so you feel better and less achy from extra strain on the body as one ages.
9. Build a strong support network
Socializing with friends and family can have many benefits. It can lower the risk of dementia as one will regularly be enjoying lively talks, laughter or hot topic debates depending on your social circle. This can keep the mind active and engaged. Discussions with different viewpoints can help to improve and expand critical thinking skills. Having another person to confide in can help to work through personal struggles and lower stress, as one would be able to find ways to relate to another or finding solutions if a concerning problem arises. Also, friends and family usually check in or spend time together with their senior friends. If behaviors changed, they would be the first to reach out and find the help needed. A common adage is that it takes a village to raise a child. However, it really should be thought of as it takes a village to support any age.
10. Listen to music
Music has been found to be therapeutic at any age. It has been linked to improved cognition and memory functioning.
11. Smell the roses (or other new smells)
The sense of smell is closely linked with memory, probably more so than any of our other senses. Those with full olfactory function can smell a common smell that will evoke a particular memory of their past; such as, the ocean breeze, or the scent of a rose can take the mind down a path of recollections of gardening with their parents or a nice memory of the past.
12. Take a course
Many universities, colleges, libraries or senior centers offer free or low-cost courses classes for adults normally over the age of 60+. This can range from taking computer classes, hobby classes, learning a new language or a common topic of interest. This will help to engage the mind and keep the mind sharp.
In Summary – The best tips to keep ANY mind active as we age is to exercise, eat right, lead a healthy lifestyle and find stimulating activities with companions and/or alone that will help critical thinking skills and lowers stress levels. This unique list of tips was created to help provide additional ways to help keep a senior mind active. It’s important to remember that as we age, there will be some form of memory or mental decline and at this time there are no proven ways to reverse the course of degenerative brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s. However, keeping the mind active can decrease the risk of developing dementia that leads to Alzheimer’s along with a healthy lifestyle and preventative check ups with a primary care physician.