5 Brain Exercises to Keep Senior Minds Sharp

brain exercises for seniors

You know that your body needs exercise, but did you know that your mind needs it too? As we get older, we face more issues with memory and completing certain cognitive tasks. Keeping the mind moving can help the brain stay active and engaged, and that can lead to better mental and cognitive health.

But not just any activity will do. Passive activities, such as watching television, can actually result in a greater risk of Alzheimer’s, according to studies by the National Academy of Science. But those who engage in more intensive mental activities, such as solving a variety of puzzles, reading, or doing crafts, saw a 2.5% reduction in their odds of developing Alzheimer’s later in life.

Most of these brain exercises can be done right from the comfort of your chair, but some of them can easily be combined with physical activity for a double-whammy of brainpower. Let’s get started!

1: Dive into Words

Reading has a beneficial effect on brain health. Studies have found that reading can enhance your memory and if you’re already dealing with cognitive decline, working the brain by reading and similar activities can slow that decline[1]. But as we get older, reading can become more difficult as our vision changes – that tiny print that you used to zoom through now makes you squint and can even give you headaches. The American Foundation for the Blind points out that at least 15% of Americans aged 75 and older have some sort of vision loss that affects their day-to-day life.

Combat that problem by not only getting the appropriate glasses for your vision problems, but opting for large print books to read, as well as large print crossword puzzles. Your local library might have entire sections devoted to large print books, just as bookstores do. If you choose to read your books on a tablet or mobile device, you can easily change the font to something larger and easier to read.

But keep in mind that you shouldn’t read too late at night if you use a tablet to do so; studies have found that using electronic readers before bed can lead to a lower quality of overall sleep[2]. And sleep matters a great deal, as a lack of sleep has been associated with a greater risk of falls[3]. A medical alert system with fall detection can help provide peace of mind if you do get too little sleep, and cutting out the bedtime screen-time should help you get better shut-eye.  

It’s not just reading that matters. Crossword puzzles are great for cognitive health as they not only require you to read the clues but engage your brain to solve the puzzles. Are you a music lover? Listening to music while you read the lyrics to the songs can spark your brain on a deeper level. Writing in a journal can make a wonderful outlet as well as a way of keeping your mind moving. If you don’t want to write your thoughts in a journal, write them in a letter that you will send to a friend or family member. Not only do you get the benefits of the writing itself, you also get the added bonus of socialization – in today’s fast-paced world, who doesn’t love the charm of a handwritten letter?

2: Play Memory Games

Remember those memory matching games you used to play? You had a series of tiles, placed face down, and two of each tile was the same. The goal was to match the two tiles, and that required turning over one tile at a time and committing it to memory. These matching games are still quite popular and they directly target your short-term memory, making it a great brain exercise for elderly adults.

Turn memory games into a challenge the whole family can enjoy. For instance, create a list of words related to a certain thing, such as naming as many animals as you can in 60 seconds, or coming up with a list of things you might expect to find on the table at Thanksgiving.

Another option is to look up a list of items that are similar to each other and read it aloud. Try to commit it to memory. Then do something else for 10 minutes. At the end of that time, try to recall as many of the words on that list as you can and write them down as you go. Compete with family members to see who has the best memory!

3: Do Something with Your Hands

There’s a reason why arts and crafts are such a big deal in senior community centers. Engaging your hands in turn engages your brain. According to Today’s Geriatric Medicine, older adults who pursue creative arts activities create new neural pathways in the brain, which can slow cognitive decline. Creating things can also reduce depression and anxiety. This creative art can take many forms:

·         Create collages of photos and memories that make you happy

·         Knit something, engage in cross-stitch, or otherwise put your sewing skills to work

·         Paint what moves you on a canvas

·         Create holiday ornaments, wreaths, and other decorations

·         Build picture frames to give as gifts

·         Make jelly or jam, or can fresh produce from your garden

As you work on a variety of crafts to keep your mind moving, don’t forget the power of a safety net. When you are working out in the garden, moving around a hot stove in the kitchen, or standing over your work station to build something interesting, wearing a medical alert watch or pendant can provide you with the peace of mind that if you get hurt while you are creating something awesome, you can reach out for help with a single touch – just press your emergency button alarm!

Much of the creativity listed above you will do with your dominant hand. But what if you tried using your non-dominant hand? This can push the brain to develop new connections. Do things with your non-dominant hand that don’t run any risk of hurting you, such as brushing your teeth or opening an envelope.

Want to really challenge your brain? Try working a jigsaw puzzle with your non-dominant hand.

4: Engage in Puzzles

Speaking of puzzles, they are one of the best ways to entice your brain into building new connections and strengthening old ones. Jigsaw puzzles not only work your brain but your fine motor skills as well. Crossword puzzles pull in the reading and working with words that can help slow cognitive decline. Math problems, such as you can find in a school workbook, are a great way to challenge yourself. Acquire a book of logic problems if you want to push yourself even harder.

You can also use puzzles on your cell phone or tablet. If you happen to be on the go – riding the train into the city, for instance – fire up your tablet and play a matching puzzle or a word search. Puzzles that you access via app give the added bonus of allowing you to play your game anywhere. And don’t forget that a mobile medical alert can be great for use when you’re out and about.

5: Video Games Aren’t Just for Kids

Though it might seem as though video game systems are meant for the much younger set, new research shows that’s not necessarily true. Those between the ages of 55 and 75 can benefit greatly from playing 3D games, which can help hold off Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, according to Science Daily. This builds on previous studies that looked at what computer games do for the elderly brain, which found that shooter games, strategy games, and role-playing games strengthened different parts of the brain, all of which led to better cognition, memory, and response. Massive multiplayer online games are also a great way to strengthen social interactions[4].

Not really into video games? Traditional board games played with family and friends can work wonders for your neural pathways. Not only does a board game help improve cognition, but it can also help prevent depression[5]. For a shot of nostalgia that might even boost your long-term memory, play games you enjoyed as a child, like dominoes, checkers, chess, and card games.

Keep Your Brain Healthy with Alert1

You might be wondering how brain health relates to fall risk. Major fall-related injuries are much more common among those who have dementia and other cognitive issues[6]. But even if you have the sharpest mind on the block, that can all change with a traumatic brain injury.  According to the Journal of the American Geriatric Society, a traumatic brain injury is responsible for at least 80,000 emergency department visits each year for those aged 65 and older; in fact, 51% of TBIs are caused by falls. Recovery from a traumatic brain injury can be difficult, and your cognition could be affected for the rest of your life.

One of the key points of recovery is catching a traumatic brain injury very early – hopefully, the moment it happens. Though this can be tough to do if you are alone in your home, with a medical alert pendant, you have the ability to reach out for help immediately. Though medical alert technology can’t prevent a fall, it certainly can help you avoid the dire consequences of a traumatic brain injury that goes untreated for too long. Consider getting an emergency response solution today for a more confident tomorrow as you seek to strengthen and maintain your brain health.