As your parents age, they will experience normal age-related changes to their brain. Neurons that die from “old age” aren’t replaced, and messages move between the remaining neurons at slower speeds.
However, that doesn’t mean their mental abilities will necessarily be reduced. There's a lot seniors can do to keep their mind sharp and alert, says Judi Parisi, the activities director at the Arbors at Dracut.
“Just as muscles get flabby from sitting around and doing nothing, so does the brain,” she says. “You have to use it or lose it.”
The Importance of Brain Health
According to the National Institute on Aging, brain health refers to the ability to remember, learn, play, concentrate, and maintain a clear, active mind. Researchers believe that many of the changes that affect the mind, such as memory loss, are actually lifestyle related.
For example, alcohol may affect seniors differently from when they were young. Some older adults can feel buzzed more easily, which can make them more likely to be confused or have accidents. Additionally, seniors are more likely to take a range of medications for chronic conditions than younger people. In some cases, a drug (or a combination of drugs) can affect mental abilities.
By encouraging your parents focus on their brain health and what they can do to help maintain it, such as taking care of their health, keeping their mind active, and staying connected, you can not only help them improve their brain health but also function every day and stay independent.
The Right Approach
As the director of the Reflections Memory Program at the Arbors at Dracut, Kim Stout understands that it can sometimes take a little work to get seniors to participate in activities that keep their minds active.
“It’s all about the approach,” she says. “If you're not excited about it, it won't be perceived well. Even if it takes a long time to get someone to try a program, once they do, they’re hooked because it’s actually all about laughing and making it a fun environment. Their perception of the activity changes and they start to seek out more. With our programming, we’re really looking to not only physically meet their needs but also emotionally and mentally as well.”
8 Easy Activities
Here are eight easy activities Parisi recommends for improving brain health:
- Do crossword puzzles and word games.
- Read newspapers, magazines, and books.
- Play “thinking” games, such as Rummikub, Skip Bo, or Cribbage.
- Watch Q-and-A game shows, such as Family Feud, and play along with the contestants.
- Take or teach a class.
- Learn a new skill or hobby.
- Work or volunteer.
By helping your aging loved one take steps today to keep their minds active, you may be able to help them reduce some risks to their brain.
As Parisi says, use it — or lose it.