There are a few reasons why our cognitive health may decline as we age. But that does not mean that there is nothing we can do to slow that process down. There are many ways to stay mentally sharp, especially in older age.
Brandy Delp, executive director of Windsor Heights Assisted Living and Memory Care in Beachwood, and Polly Mytinger, education program manager at the Alzheimer’s Association in Beachwood, said there are a few things people can do independently and in their communities to stay mentally active.
Mytinger said the Alzheimer’s Association breaks its enrichment into four categories: cognitive activities, which could be your weekly word search in newsletters, and trying out a new cooking recipe that you’ve never done before; physical health and exercise, which could be as simple as setting a timer during the workday to stand up and walk around your space for 15 minutes; diet and nutrition, especially green leafy vegetables; and social engagement.
Although not many people associate diet and nutrition with cognitive ability, Mytinger said putting good fuel into your body is going to help fuel your entire day as well.
“We find that your brain is your main control center,” she said. “And whatever you can do to keep the full body healthy and your blood pumping, a lot of that blood is going to go into your brain. So, especially when it comes to diet, making sure you put good healthy foods inside your body is really going to help strengthen your brain.”
Mytinger added social engagement is something that she thinks people are more aware of now. This could include going out there and talking to your community members, getting to know your neighbors, joining a social activity, or doing whatever you can to challenge yourself to engage with other humans.
“That actually really strengthens your memory and strengthens your recollection, like being able to recall things easier and helps overall with the health of your brain,” Mytinger said.
Delp said there are several ways people can sharpen their cognitive health. Windsor Heights provides intellectual activities that promote residents’ mental cognition, like brain teasers, current events, trivia, and other activities that stimulate the brain by learning a new skill.
“The residents are learning how to use the virtual reality program and the experience it provides,” she said. “We have our mind diet, which contains eating leafy greens, high protein fish and fruits, as well as offering regular exercise programming and socialization.”
Delp said, as we get older, our brain volume gradually shrinks and causes a loss of some nerve cell connections. These age-related changes can affect how we do everyday tasks.
“So these activities will help you keep your independence as long as you possibly can,” Delp said. “Everyday tasks that it can affect is being able to dress yourself, being able to make decisions, organizing, planning, and just remembering different things.”
Mytinger said that there are many things that you are battling as you age that can slow you down, and this shouldn’t be a time for you to stop enjoying the life that you can have.
“I think starting earlier is better,” Mytinger said. “A lot of times – especially when it comes to Alzheimer’s and dementia – we really talk about individuals who are affected who are older. But really, starting these healthy habits younger is so crucial. And it’s never too late to get started on making healthier choices for yourself so you can have a fuller life and really enjoy every day to the fullest.”
Mytinger added November is Caregiver’s Month.
“If you know a caregiver, just make sure you send them a little extra love this month,” she said. “Because it’s important to recognize those who are taking care of our loved ones.”