Contrary to popular belief, the No. 1 fear among senior citizens is not loneliness, fear of death, or fear of losing a loved one.
It is in fact, the degradation of their mental health, according to a recent survey done by CBS News. Some 28% of seniors worry about the loss of their mind’s sharpness as their age increases, even more so than the number (23%) who worry about not having enough money to sustain themselves in retirement.
A big reason for this fear is that most of us know someone, either directly or indirectly, who has suffered from a mental health disease brought on by aging – with dementia and Alzheimer’s being the scariest of the group.
While neither of these diseases is curable, there are absolutely proven ways to keep yourself mentally stimulated and sharp as you get older. Not only will this keep you feeling in control of your own life, but it will also promote good health in your brain and in your body as well as you advance in age.
To understand your brain’s condition as you age, a little biology lesson is in order. Three things happen to each and every one of us as we get older: The volume of our brain gradually shrinks, some of the nerves in the brain lose connection with each other; and the flow of blood through the brain slows a bit.
To combat these changes, doctors and scientists suggest a combination of physical and mental remedies that will challenge you on a multitude of levels and keep your brain from lapsing into a malaise of just “going with the flow”, and doing things without really thinking about them.
Here are a few tips to try for keeping your brain physically up to speed:
- Exercise – Obviously the benefits of consistent, moderate exercise pertain to our entire body, but exercise also challenges our brains with tasks like coordination. Not only that, but exercise releases chemicals in our brain that ramp up our moods and have us seeking out more fun, fulfilling activities.
- Get Enough Sleep – Another no-brainer, but if it was so easy, everyone would do it! The best kind of sleep is the kind without distractions like television or the lights on. Get yourself in a good, dark environment and start counting sheep. This gives your brain the time to rest and process information that otherwise will have to be done (poorly) while you’re awake.
- Don’t Drink or Smoke – Or at least cut down on these habits. Alcohol is a brain killer, and smoking is also known as something that ramps up the possibility of dementia. If either of these two is a regular habit, please cut down on the amount or consider outside help to eliminate them altogether.
And when you want to exercise your brain mentally, here are a few options to try:
- Games – Yes, games! The same things you thought you gave up when your kids left elementary school. Anything from puzzles to card games to Trivial Pursuit! and Monopoly can be exactly the sort of tonic your brain needs to stay sharp. Not only do games give you the chance to socialize with others – spurring your brain to process new information and make connections, but things like strategy, problem-solving, and challenging puzzles stimulate your neural connections without you even realizing it. It’s fun, it’s a great activity for friends, family, or both, and it’s a guaranteed way to boost your brain power.
At our senior living communities, we incorporate games and puzzles as part of our Brain Fitness Program. In direct connection with Posit Science Corporation, we are dedicated to helping our residents, should they so choose, to take on fun, engaging activities in a classroom setting via personal desktop computers that can not only increase your brain’s functioning, but also speed up its ability to process information.
Get Smart! – Learning something new is a great way to stimulate your brain while also perhaps finding a new passion or two to embrace. Pick a subject you remember from school or something you’ve always been curious about and dive right in! Between libraries to the power of the Internet, which you can access right from your own suite or our business center, resources abound to get you started on any subject under the sun; and hey, that’s one you might want to give a go – astronomy. Or geometry, or World War II, great works of literature, how to raise your own inside vegetable garden, philosophy, religion, anything you can dream about, you can learn about.
The best tip to remember is that if you take care of your brain, it will take care of you. Your brain is a powerful muscle. So exercise it daily and reap the rewards.