When a parent ages, mental deterioration is often the hardest thing for their children and grandchildren to cope with – even when the physical changes in the parent are more challenging. Arthritis, diabetes, loss of mobility – these are parts of aging. You can use medicine or equipment to deal with them. If the parents suffer in physical health, they are still the same parents with the same personalities, the same idiosyncrasies, and the same likes and dislikes.
It is much harder, however, to deal with mental issues, because a person is more defined by his or her personality than by bodily health. Most of us would rather have a mentally sharp parent with physical ailments than the other way around.
When patients suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s, there isn’t much that we can do to prevent mental decline. But for most seniors, there are activities that can forestall certain conditions.
Aging causes the body to contract and get smaller. This also happens to the cells in the brain. They shrink and lose contact with other cells, and blood flow to the brain slows down. The brain works more slowly and less efficiently. It’s no wonder that names get forgotten and glasses get misplaced. We exercise our bodies to gain physical strength and slow physical aging; we can also strengthen our brains to slow down the normal aging process with stimulation and mental exercise.
Most of these “exercises” are activities that are simple and fun. Consciously getting involved in keeping our brains sharp gives us better odds at staying happy and vibrant for a long time. This is important to people of all ages, but it is especially important for seniors.
Here are some ways to help keep your loved one’s brain in shape:
Physical Exercise: When your brain is actively controlling an exercise routine such as walking or swimming, the blood flow to the brain increases. If possible, engage in activities such as dancing or light aerobics so that the brain has to work harder to follow steps and co-ordinate the body. Furthermore, exercising in a social setting, such as an exercise class, increases social interactions and mental stimulation.
Reading: Seniors should be encouraged to read as much as possible as this is one of the best ways to keep the brain active. One very popular way is to have them read children’s books to their visiting grandchildren.
Computers: If basic digital literacy can be learned (emails and web browsing), the elderly can be quickly connected to a huge new world. There are many websites specifically for seniors, and plenty of grandparents can be found on Facebook.
Games: Puzzles and games aren’t just a fun diversion – they’re a good workout for the brain. Crossword puzzles or Sudoku are a simple way to keep the brain working. Board games like Trivial Pursuit or card games like bridge are great ways to keep the brain stimulated while having a lot of fun and socializing with others.
Conversation: The elderly should be called every day by their loved ones. If they are able, seniors should be encouraged to get involved in volunteering or community groups. Anything that gets them out of the house and involved in activities keeps the brain stimulated.
New Routines: Even someone who is physically or emotionally unable to get out and do new things and meet new people, can become more engaged by doing something a little different each day to provide mental stimulation. Watching a movie, eating a different kind of meal, anything that isn’t the same old routine.
Laugh: Humour is usually related to the unexpected – in other words, different, unexpected paths in the brain. Research has shown that the act of hearing something unexpected, connecting it to the expected, then seeing the humour in that activates areas of the brain associated with creativity and learning. It really is the best medicine. What a great way to keep your brain in shape!