Senior woman and man putting a puzzle together

Seniors Can Maintain a Sharp, Healthy Mind

Ever wonder what happens to your brain as you age? It turns out there is a reason why seniors may become more forgetful. Their brains shrink in volume over time. Seniors lose neurons as they age, and the neurons that they do have can slow down when the brain sends messages. To top it all off, fat deposits can pile up in the brain, causing blood flow to slow down.

All these factors help explain why senior loved ones end up forgetting their email password and where they left their keys. Thankfully, there are ways to combat the signs of an aging mind. While our goal at Capital Senior Living is to enrich the lives of our residents by providing an environment that is physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally stimulating, seniors can also help themselves by adding stimulating brain activities, an active routine, a healthy diet and daily socialization into their routines.

Stimulate the Brain

Failing to use your mind as you age can contribute to decreased cognitive function. However, through mental exercises, senior loved ones can improve memory loss by 30 percent to 50 percent. Try playing some challenging board games or doing crosswords and puzzles. Chess and Scrabble also are great for putting the brain to work.

Reading can also help fire your neurons. Many Capital Senior Living communities boast fully stocked libraries where residents can pick up a suspense, romance or biography novel for pleasure reading. Seniors also can get a daily, weekly or monthly subscription to a newspaper or magazine at many of our locations. It will help them stay on top of current events and exercise their minds all at the same time. Joining or starting a book club with fellow neighbors or at a local senior center are ways to socialize and keep seniors motivated to read.

If a senior loved one is feeling truly inspired, have him or her try writing a story of their own. Writing has been proven to have positive effects on the brain — similar to reading.

It’s never too late to try something new. Learning a new language, instrument and/or hobby can promote a senior’s brain health while also boosting their mood. Dr. Sevil Yaşar, M.D., Ph.D., and Associate Professor of Medicine & Neurology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, says: “I recommend cognitive engagement to my patients more than any medication. Research has shown that learning something new is more beneficial to your brain than just doing the same thing. If you’ve always wanted to learn Spanish, then take a class, or learn to play the piano. Trying something new that pushes the brain and works the untouched areas can be very useful.”

Avoid Smoking and Drinking

Excessive smoking and drinking can be damaging to a body no matter how old a person is. However, at an older age, smoking and drinking can cause more harm. In addition to increasing chances of heart disease and cancer, smoking and drinking during the middle age years can double the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s later in life. Seniors can lower their chances of these issues by limiting their alcohol intake and avoiding cigarettes completely.

Maintain a Regular Sleep Cycle

Irregular sleep is associated with a variety of disorders. Not getting adequate sleep, having an inconsistent sleep schedule and oversleeping can all lead to an unhealthy sleep cycle and enhance seniors’ chances for depression, anxiety and insomnia. Make sure your senior loved one is getting an adequate amount of sleep — seven to nine hours — and practicing a consistent sleep cycle. Going to bed and waking up at similar times each night is a good habit to get into.

If a senior is having trouble sleeping, it may be due to a number of factors. Drinking soda, coffee and caffeinated teas during the afternoon and evening hours can keep anyone up at night. Using technology too late into the night can also stimulate the brain, keeping a senior awake. Avoid the temptation of watching late-night videos by turning off electronics before going to bed.

Monitor Cholesterol and Blood Pressure

While it may not seem like cholesterol and blood pressure are linked to mental health, having high levels of both can have pejorative effects on a senior’s mind. High cholesterol and blood pressure can lead to a stroke, which is intensely harmful to the brain. Senior loved ones should be sure to schedule regular doctor visits and get their cholesterol and blood pressure checked. If it turns out they do have higher than normal levels, these can be lowered and maintained with medication in addition to physical activity and a nutritious diet.

Stay Physically Active

Exercising — even if a senior has limited mobility or chronic ailments — is beneficial for the mind at any stage of life. Just 30 minutes of physical activity each day has been shown to improve memory as well as reasoning skills and reaction times. Exercise can also enhance a senior’s mood, lessening the risk of depression and seasonal affective disorder.

The trick to getting a daily dose of exercise in is finding a workout that a senior enjoys and is safe for the joints. Brisk walking, water aerobics and hiking are all exercise options for seniors. Taking a ballroom dancing class with a spouse or neighbor is another way to keep fit while learning something new and spending time with a loved one.

“You don’t need to run a marathon,” said Yaşar, who is also an attending physician at The Memory and Alzheimer’s Treatment Center at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. “But you can practice physical activity half an hour every day. It improves blood flow to the brain and makes your brain work. Tai chi is great for seniors. Yoga also has a mindfulness that’s good for your health.”

Seniors are encouraged to check their community newsletters and Community Life web page to see what classes are being offered in their community.

Eat Healthy

In the same way that eating healthy can keep a body in good shape, it can also keep a senior mind in tip-top condition. If you’re a senior, avoid eating processed foods and items that contain a lot of salt, sugar and saturated fats. Skip the fast food, microwavable meals and deep-fried dishes. Residents at our communities all across the United States have an array of healthy and hearty food selections available for every meal. As a company, Capital Senior Living prides itself on serving chef-inspired entrees made from the finest ingredients. Meals are made from scratch daily and include the best selections of meat and freshest produce and herbs hand-chosen by our culinary experts.

“There’s mounting evidence about diet improving your mental health,” Yaşar states. “When I talk to my patients, I tell them about the Mediterranean diet – a lot of vegetables, fish, olive oils, pistachios and almonds. There is evidence that eating these foods is beneficial for cognition.”

Chicken breasts and fish are highly beneficial for a senior’s health. When it comes to snacks, blueberries, nuts, beans and even dark chocolate show evidence of improving brain function.

Dehydration has a surprisingly negative effect on cognitive skills, so seniors should always stay hydrated.

Be Social

Another way to exercise the brain is by socializing. Getting daily interaction will help keep a senior’s brain moving and active. Socializing can also fight against feelings of isolation, depression and anxiety. Stay in contact with family and friends regularly whether that’s in person, over the phone or through technology. For the times when loved ones are not able to visit, seniors should consider joining a book club or fitness class to forge new friendships.

Volunteering can be a solid way to socialize while also helping a community. Giving back to others has shown to reduce stress, foster a sense of togetherness, improve confidence, bring joy and even lengthen a life span. Schools, libraries, charities, food banks and hospitals usually offer volunteer opportunities year-round. Mentorship programs can allow a senior to pass along their wisdom and career expertise to the younger generation.

Although aging can impact our mental state and processing time, applying healthy living measures and having an active social life can help reverse the signs of getting older.

This website contains information, facts, opinions and recommendations of various individuals and organizations regarding senior care, health, nutrition and exercise. Capital Senior Living and its affiliates, agents and licensors cannot, and do not, guarantee the accuracy, completeness, timeliness, merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose of, or otherwise endorse, any opinions or recommendations, nor does Capital Senior Living constitute the giving of medical, health or fitness advice. Users of the website must consult their physicians regarding the applicability of any opinions or recommendations with respect to their conditions.