Older individuals can become disconnected from their communities due to health issues or otherwise.
According to Chris DeShon, regional director of sales and marketing at Wallick Communities in New Albany; Kim Fullerton, administrator at Wexner Heritage Village in Columbus; and Dr. Andrew Pieper, professor of psychiatry and neuroscience and director of the neurotherapeutic center at Harrington Discovery Institute at University Hospitals in Cleveland, staying engaged can help aging adults avoid cognitive decline.
“There are many fun activities people can do, like crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, exercising, card games like solitaire, bridge and gin rummy, word searches and listening to music,” DeShon said. “Even learning or teaching a new skill or reading, they are all great examples of ways to keep the brain active and sharp.”
More specifically, Pieper said five lifestyle intervention categories have shown success in keeping the brain healthy. These categories are controlling your blood pressure, frequent aerobic exercise, being cognitively active, following a good diet and getting enough sleep.
“This keeps the brain healthier,” he explained. “Even if you have a genetic risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease, it doesn’t show up at early ages. Our brains have some ability to defend from illness and injury. These are strategies to promote brain health, resulting in making the brain stronger and better able to defend itself.”
Fullerton added individuals should also avoid smoking and drinking to maximize brain function.
“People always say, when it comes to your brain as you age, use it or lose it,” she stated. “You’ve got to keep it sharp through mental stimulation and leading a healthy lifestyle. I’m of the impression and opinion that the sooner you can get into that habit and make it a habit, the better. It’s the same for all of us, no matter our age. The sooner we make healthy choices, the better off we are in life. That is the same for your brain.”
Each organization places importance on promoting healthy brain function. At University Hospitals, Pieper said they take a “very comprehensive approach to taking care of these patients.”
“Patients with dementia don’t just have problems with learning and memory, they also have problems with depression, behavioral control, and sometimes hallucinations. Therefore, they need a comprehensive approach to care,” he said. “At the UH Neurological Institute, we cover all these facets of patient care, across mental and physical health, that affect the impact of dementia on the lives of patients.”
At Wexner Heritage Village’s memory care unit, the Geraldine Schottenstein Cottage, there are 18 beds staffed with the same team every week. Smaller groups and familiar faces can help Alzheimer’s and dementia patients retain cognitive function.
“The consistency helps people feel comfortable and not frightened as they could be if they saw a bunch of new people every day,” Fullerton noted. “We only have one activities director, so all of the families and staff know her. They have good relationships which each other and can talk through any changes or developments. It allows changes to be identified sooner.”
DeShon said Wallick Companies’ communities, residents are given the opportunity live within ability-based neighborhoods.
“We continue to fuel the brain daily by continuing repetitive tasks, exercising the mind and challenging individuals without frustration,” he said. “We actively support the Alzheimer’s Association and host a monthly support group for friends, family members and anyone else in the community who may want/need to share their story or simply listen to others going through the process as well.”
But if a patient is aging in place while grappling with cognitive decline, their family members play a key role.
“A huge factor in how well patients do is how much family support they have,” Pieper explained. “If you look at the five lifestyle intervention categories, there are opportunities in every one of these for family intervention to different degrees.”