As Mom gets older, you may understandably worry about any sign that could indicate a declining memory, but an increasing number of “senior moments” doesn’t necessarily mean that she’s on the path to dementia or Alzheimer’s. The aging brain, just like any other muscle, needs regular exercise—you either use it or you lose it. And Mom’s bouts of forgetfulness could be a sign that she isn’t getting enough mental stimulation. These five activities that promote brain health for seniors could be the remedy.
1. Spend time with friends and family.
Loneliness and depression can be two of the biggest obstacles to brain health. Combat them with friends and family. Spending time talking, laughing, and reminiscing slows memory loss, boosts mood, and increases self-worth. Seniors can also feel younger when they spend time with people who are active and enjoy life. If you’re a long-distance caregiver, encourage Mom to join a group of active and supportive friends at a local community center, church, library, or park.
2. Exercise regularly.
You already know that exercise improves your physical health, but did you know that staying physically active also improves brain health? Exercise increases oxygen to the brain and releases hormones that nourish brain cell growth and nurture new neuronal connection growth. Researchers at the University of Georgia's Department of Exercise Science found that just 20 minutes of exercise can boost an individual’s memory and information processing abilities, and there are plenty of low-impact activities that are great for seniors of all abilities:
- Swimming (or water aerobics)
- Tai Chi
3. Take up a new hobby or join an interest group.
While the body does tend to slow down with age, that doesn't mean a senior’s social life is over. Older adults can still enjoy an active social life by pursuing special interests, taking up new hobbies, and enjoying activities with friends—all of which help keep the mind engaged. If you’re concerned that Mom may be isolating herself, go out of your way to encourage her to take up a new activity:
- Join a book club
- Learn a new language
- Work in a pet shelter
- Teach kids to read
- Campaign for a local political candidate
- Volunteer at a museum
- Learn how to play a musical instrument
- Join a sewing circle
- Cultivate a garden
- Write a memoir
- Become a mentor
4. Eat right.
Whether Mom is already pretty good at keeping a balanced diet or she has a few bad habits that she’s picked up over the years, now's a great time to encourage her to improve her eating habits.
When you take Mom grocery shopping, encourage her to swap out the meat or poultry for seafood at least once a week. Fish is one if the best foods for brain function. Fatty varieties like salmon, trout, anchovies, and sardines improve your cognitive function. Swap out milk chocolate treats for dark chocolate for a dopamine boost to enhance learning and memory. Dark chocolate also contains flavanols, the brain-boosting antioxidants in red berries and wine.
Other important brain-boosting foods to add to your grocery list include:
- Whole grains
- Pumpkin seeds
- Green vegetables like broccoli
- Green tea and water
5. Do a few brain teasers and word games each day.
Certain brain teasers like Sudoku and crossword and jigsaw puzzles improve the brain’s ability to focus, concentrate, perceive, plan, and problem solve, says psychologist Dr. Ramani Durvasula. These puzzles help exercise the full brain, improving both an individual’s problem solving skills and the ability to think creatively. Plus, puzzles like these can release a burst of dopamine that triggers learning and memorization abilities. Plus, there is some indication that the act of solving a puzzle can help combat stress and improve blood pressure, too.
With all these options and more, you're sure to find a brain-building activity that Mom enjoys. Not only will she have fun, but you'll be helping ensure that she has the cognitive ability she needs to keep living as independently as possible.