Cognitive decline is a concern for many seniors. And while some decline is a natural part of aging, there are things you can do that may help slow cognitive decline and keep your mind sharp as a tack. At the Gardens at Barry Road assisted living community, we want seniors to stay in the best possible health both physically and mentally, so we made a list of six brain training ideas you can try.
Brain training doesn’t have to be a chore; in fact, it can be effortless. Simply playing games with your friends might be a great way to improve your brain's performance and health. Board games and card games are a competition of brain power and focus. Your brain loves to win and releases positive transmitters when you’re playing games, which keeps you wanting to “work out” your brain. When you just sit alone in your room trying to exercise your brain with books and puzzles, you probably won’t want to do it as long.
Playing games with friends can also be good for your mental health. Social activities are known to reduce stress and help with anxiety and depression. Conversation and games force you to focus on the outside world and other people instead of your own worries or negative thoughts. Human interaction also tends to increase hormones and neurotransmitters that make you feel happier and less stressed.
Brain training apps are mobile programs that use games, activities and puzzles to exercise your brain. Though these apps aren’t backed by scientific research or approved as a treatment or therapy, they still may have cognitive benefits and are really fun to use.
These apps usually have you do a variety of game-like activities, each focusing on a specific type of brain function. For example, it might have you play a matching game where you need to remember the cards after they’re flipped to help you exercise your memory. Some of the apps will keep score of which mental processes you’re doing most poorly in and give you more of those activities.
Reading may help improve your brain’s memory, mental acuity and language functions. People have always intuitively guessed that reading makes you smarter, but now, there is research to back it up. According to a study published in Neurology, more late-life cognitive activity correlates to slower cognitive decline. So, your brain may be able to be exercised just like your muscles to retain brain fitness as you age.
If you’ve seen the Rocky movies, you know eating right is an essential aspect of any good training montage, and that goes for brain muscles too. Your brain needs fuel to operate. But the most important brain food isn’t even food; it’s water. Staying hydrated may increase your mental acuity, energy and memory.
Eating foods that treat your gut well is also important for good brain health because your brain and gut are actually connected. Poor intestinal health may even lead to mental health issues including anxiety and depression.
Here are some foods commonly thought of as “brain foods”:
Sleep is one of the most important factors in brain function, but unfortunately, many seniors struggle with insomnia and other sleep problems. A good nighttime routine can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer, but if your sleep problems are serious or persistent, you should consult a medical professional.
One of the most important aspects of any nighttime routine is at least 30 minutes without looking at a screen before you go to sleep. Devices give off blue light which can have a negative impact on sleep, and they stimulate you and keep you from falling asleep.
It’s also important to have some kind of wind down ritual that prepares you for sleep. It can be meditating, journaling, having tea or anything that relaxes you and puts you into a sleepy state of mind.
As with most machines, using your brain often keeps everything running smoothly and knocks away any cobwebs. Learning is one of the best ways to keep your brain in use because it involves creating new pathways.
Your brain learns new things and stores data by building new connections, and those connections can either be strong or weak. It may be the case that learning more and more often makes your brain better practiced at making connections and, therefore, creates stronger ones.