With older age comes the steady decline of brain function and cognitive ability. Losing some cognitive function is normal for seniors, but there are ways to prevent its most severe effects. One of the most affected brain functions in seniors is memory. Memory impairment is a natural occurrence for an aging brain, but decades of research show that some physical and mental exercises can slow down memory loss. Regardless of your mobility levels, there are various physical and mental strategies that can help sharpen the mind and improve memory.
You’ve Got Multiple Options
Strengthening the brain and its functions are possible through two types of exercises: physical and mental. Physical practices, including diet changes and getting enough sleep, encourage the body to make new connections in the brain. Mental exercises, such as reading and puzzles, actively engage in brain functions. Here are some ideas for how you can use physical or mental reinforcements to improve your memory skills.
Sleep is vital for overall health, but it’s especially important for the brain. If the body’s natural sleep cycle is disrupted or shortened, it can affect cognitive functions and the brain’s ability to form long-term memories. Getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night helps the brain store memories from the day as the body gets enough rest.
For seniors who are still active, dancing is an exercise and a memory challenge in one. Because the body is having to learn new steps and routines, the brain is encouraged to actively use memory. Dancing can be low-impact or high-impact depending on your personal activity levels. There are plenty of dance classes that are specially tailored to seniors, even those unable to stand or unable to perform strenuous physical activity.
Eat more healthy fats. Not only are your brain neurons largely comprised of lipids (which require you to eat healthy fats in order to repair and restore them), but new studies are starting to show that ketones (from fat) are a cleaner, low-inflammatory form of energy for the human brain. Chronic inflammation and nutritional starvation are both major contributors to accelerated brain aging. To get more healthy fat into your diet, make sure to avoid fats from processed meats, deep-fried foods, and ultra-processed food. Instead, try balancing your diet with more monounsaturated fats like avocados, nuts, and olive oil. You should also try to buy higher quality meat from sustainable sources rather than processed meat products from the grocery store. Whole-fat dairy, especially if you can get it from a local farm or co-op market, is also a great source of healthy fat.
You wouldn’t think so, but volunteering on a regular basis can have multiple health benefits for seniors. In addition to decreasing feelings of isolation, volunteering can help to improve memory by encouraging you to adjust to a new routine and practice new skills regularly. No matter the age or mobility, there are volunteering activities for everyone – from reading with children, to caring for animals, to collecting shelter donations from home, and more.
Practicing mindfulness can be extremely helpful to brain health. Studies about meditation have shown that it can improve brain function by reducing the markers of cognitive decline and encouraging the brain to make new connections. Different types of mediation also help develop one’s ability to focus, which can later improve the ability to learn and remember new things.
Puzzle games require you to use problem-solving skills in an entertaining way. Some of the most popular puzzle games are sudoku, crosswords, and word searches, which all exercise the brain without posing too much difficulty. Puzzle games require logic and memory skills, which encourage the brain to make connections. By practicing strategic thinking with these easy-to-learn games, seniors can improve their decision-making and concentration skills.
An effective way to strengthen memorization ability is to assess the memories you already have. Memory tests are simple and can be performed at any time and place. Put your memory to the test by quizzing yourself on what you can remember about your life. Some questions you can ask are: What did I dream of doing as a child? When and where did I meet my partner? What are some of my biggest accomplishments?
Similar to a memory test, sensory tests help accelerate brain activity. The goal is to regularly test your five senses in order to keep them sharp. Conducting a sensory test is simple and doesn’t take up too much time or energy. One way to test your sense of taste is to take any food and try identifying the flavors bite by bite. You can also try testing your sense of touch by having a loved one place an object in your hand and closing your eyes while guessing what it is.
Another way to test the senses is to play a fun round of bingo. Whether you play at home or your local senior center, you’ll be actively engaging your sense of hearing, sense of touch, and problem-solving skills. Bingo is much better as a social game and can increase a sense of well-being when played with friends and family.
Language learning becomes more difficult as an individual ages, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to do. The ability to learn a new language has become more accessible thanks to the hundreds of language-learning apps and services on the market. Studies show that learning a demanding skill over a period of time enhances the brain’s ability to form memories. Even if you don’t become fluent, learning standard conversational words is an accomplishment in and of itself.
With all of the activities and strategies out there, anyone can actively work on their brain health. Even the simplest mental exercises can go a long way, so it’s important to try them out and keep your memory intact as you continue to age. No matter which activity you choose, memory and brain function improvement is guaranteed.