When it comes to how the mind ages, research is increasingly giving new meaning to the popular phrase “use it or lose it.”
So what are today’s seniors doing to keep mentally fit? Many have said goodbye to traditional games such as bingo. They’re gravitating more to video-game technology and group activities such as Scrabble® and bridge tournaments. According to research, it all helps.
Researchers in a study published in “Psychological Medicine” from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, found that individuals with high brain reserve—which looks at the roles of education, occupational complexity, and mentally stimulating pursuits in preventing cognitive decline—have a 46-percent decreased risk of dementia than those with low brain reserve. The study found that it is, in fact, a case of “use it or lose it,” and pointed out that even a late-life surge in mental activity can stave off the effects of this terrible disease.
What causes the kind of brain drain that seniors must try to thwart? From a scientific standpoint, multiple factors apparently contribute to a sluggish senior mind, said Dr. Ronald Petersen, director of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. In his words, “There is often a genetic component, but the environment plays a role as well. The cumulative impacts of medical issues such as vascular changes like hardening of the arteries also contribute to dementia.” He also pointed out that, “The connections between the nerve cells probably also don’t work as well.”
On the other hand, Petersen observes, the wisdom and acquired experience seniors bring to the table is often under-valued in our society. That’s why exercising the mind as well as the body is such an important goal for older adults.
He said there are no hard –and-fast rules about what senior mind activities are the best in warding off the effects of aging. “Whether it’s a computer game, crossword or Sudoku puzzles, or reading and analyzing a newspaper or magazine, first and foremost seniors should like what they’re doing,” Petersen said. “If the senior does not enjoy the activity, then it is not as likely to be beneficial.”
Tips for mind-stimulating fun
The following tips from Home Instead Senior Care offer ways to help seniors engage in mind-stimulating activities:
• Video action. Interactive video games have become popular for family members of all ages.
• Computer savvy not needed. Even seniors who are intimidated by the computer still can play online and other computer games like Solitaire or joining an online bridge game?
• Organize game night. Board or card games offer a great avenue for mind stimulation.
• The magic of music. Many seniors were avid musicians in their earlier years and some may still have pianos or instruments in their homes.
• Tournament fun. Bridge and Scrabble tournaments for seniors are popular. Check with your local senior center or Home Instead Senior Care office to learn of any activities in your area. Or encourage your older adult to join a local bridge group.
• Think big. Crossword, large-piece jigsaw and Sudoku puzzles are great pastimes for those who need a mind-stimulating activity when they are alone.
• Out and about. Most communities have concerts, lectures and other pursuits that can interest seniors and their families.
• In the news. Many seniors maintain their interest in politics and current events. For their next birthday, renew a subscription to a newspaper or popular news magazine. Or organize a news discussion group or a book group.
• Companionship Counts. Companionship is an important part of stimulating seniors’ minds. If your senior has no one to spend time with, consider hiring a companion.