Have you been out somewhere and someone introduced themselves to you, but before you even finished shaking their hand, you forgot their name? Or how about when you go to the grocery store for two items that you need for dinner and you come out with everything but those two items? We have all been there. We do not have to necessarily be older to experience some struggles cognitively once in a while. Imagine the frustration, having things like this occur on a daily basis. Have you begun to see your older loved one decline cognitively? Believe it or not, there are things that your loved one can do that can improve their memory and their day-to-day activities.
We are always hearing about the importance of physical exercise, but did you know that exercising the brain daily is equally important? It can help to maintain mental sharpness and improve cognitive skills, which usually declines as one ages. An older adult does not need to have a brain-related diagnosis, such as Alzheimer’s Disease or Multiple Sclerosis (MS) to experience diminished cognitive abilities.
Cognitive skills are the core skills your brain uses to think, read, learn, remember, reason and pay attention. (1) Some cognitive abilities, such as vocabulary are usually not affected by age. In fact, it might even improve with age. Some of the cognitive abilities that usually decline as one ages, are: memory, processing speed, conceptual reasoning and executive function abilities. (2)
A study was done with older adults where some learned how to quilt and some learned digital photography, or engaged in both activities. Learning new skills activated working memory (short-term memory), episodic memory (autobiographical events) and reasoning. After a period of 3 months, it was shown that the older adults had enhanced cognitive function, specifically in episodic memory when engaged in the activities daily. Furthermore, photography participants had improvements in visuospatial processing (ability to identify, integrate and analyze space and visual form). Those who participated in both activities also had better processing speed. (3)
The following are just some ways that can boost cognitive abilities:
Logic Puzzles – They enable lateral thinking and fire neural pathways that have most likely been dormant. You can find logic puzzle books online or at your local bookstore. Then there is of course regular jigsaw puzzles that can aid in stimulating the mind.
Arts and Crafts – It can help with dexterity in the hands and the fingers. It also taps into their creativity and imagination that has probably not been used in quite some time. The crafts do not have to be elaborate and most senior centers provide art and craft programming.
Sudoku – Is a logic-based game that involves utilizing problem solving skills, while looking for number patterns. When completed, it can also provide a great sense of accomplishment.
Chess – It is all about strategy, planning and thinking outside the box. It can be intimidating, but after a little bit of practice, it is something anyone can pick up. It can also help to increase focus and concentration.
Computer/Video Games – It might be thought of as something just young people are into and apparently making millions while doing so. However, it can be a great tool for older adults with increasing processing time and forward thinking. (4)
Changing Routines – Slightly changing how every day activities are done can help improve cognitive skills by creating new neural pathways. For instance, instead of brushing your teeth with your right hand, trying brushing them with your left hand or practice writing with the opposite hand.
It is understandable that some of the activities listed above may be difficult for your loved one to do, so just try and find at least one activity that could work for them and their situation.
Scientists believe that engaging in some of these activities protect the brain by creating cognitive reserves. This means that these activities may assist and stimulate some areas of the brain, which then can help compensate for other areas that are affected by age. (5)
Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE)
It was a training that was funded by the National Institutes of Health that engaged healthy older adults, 65 years and older. They participated in 10 sessions of memory training, reasoning training or process-speed training. The participants in each group reported less difficulty in instrumental activities of daily living. In fact, most of the improvements in the specific areas of training persisted 10 years after it took place, except for the memory aspect. This training just goes to show that with the right tools and implementation, cognitive abilities can improve, even later in life.
The Connection Between Physical Health and Brain Health
Maintaining physical health is also key for brain health. If your older loved one is on a number of medications, be sure to have regularly scheduled visits with their physician. They should be evaluated if any medication interactions are occurring that could be impeding their cognition. If your loved one has more than one physician that they see, be sure they are all aware of all the medications your loved one is taking. A healthy diet can also impact the brain and how it functions. There are fruits and vegetables that are rich with antioxidants, such as blueberries, strawberries and broccoli, cauliflower, as well as certain fats that may be neuroprotective. (6)
There is still a lot that is unknown in terms of how much some of these things translate to helping with everyday life functioning, but there is nothing to lose by trying to incorporate a few of these things into your loved one’s life. You might not find them solving quadratic equations, but at the very least, it can boost their overall mood and give them a renewed sense of purpose. If you want to learn more or find out how to access some of these activities or trainings, contact Denver Senior Care. They would be happy to help out!