Confusion and forgetfulness are a normal part of growing older. We all know an elderly parent who can never remember where they put their glasses, and our grandparents may drive us mad by forgetting doctor’s appointments.
Although cognitive decline is a side effect of old age, there are still ways that we keep our minds in good condition as we get older. In fact, not only does training our brains keep our minds sharp and make it easier to learn new things, but we’re also likely to feel less frustrated as a result!
Read on for some ideas on how to keep elderly minds active and healthy.
Brain Teasers And Word Puzzles
Studies have shown that people who regularly do crosswords, Sudokus, and word puzzles have better mental muscles. It’s in part thanks to the memory, math, word skills, and logic that these games require. The more we do mentally stimulating activities like this, the stronger the connections in our neural pathways, which helps to retain mental abilities for longer.
Brain training apps and games improve memory, visual-spatial, problem-solving, and logic skills, plus concentrating on a game every day improves focus. There are lots of different brain training apps out there, and you can also play online, or print out puzzles to play anywhere, anytime.
Arts And Crafts
Painting, drawing, crocheting, scrapbooking, knitting, and sculpting are all fun activities that can benefit the mind. In addition to encouraging elderly people to get creative and let their ideas flow, practicing arts and crafts improves motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and dexterity. For this reason, lots of senior care homes offer regular arts and crafts classes for residents to take part in.
If your elderly loved one is particularly adventurous with their choice of hobby, why not suggest they try candle making or calligraphy? And if they have young grandchildren, encourage them to do some arts and crafts together.
As well as brain training, regular physical exercise is good for brain function too. Exercise increases oxygen flow to the brain and helps to maintain network connections, keeps joints in good condition, and can even be a real boost for our mental health. Dancing, walking, jogging, tennis, bowling, and yoga are all good examples of physical exercise that people of all ages can do.
There are lots of ways you can get your elderly relatives to exercise, even if they can’t walk or stand up for extended periods of time, from seated exercise classes to Pilates. Even a short walk around the garden or park a few times a week can have huge benefits—plus fresh air and Vitamin D as an added bonus.
Board Games And Card Games
Board games and card games are another fantastic way to keep the mind active. Cluedo, Monopoly, Snakes and Ladders, Solitaire, Whist, Rummy – the list goes on. Many of these games encourage the use of memory, strategy, and logic skills to keep those mental cogs oiled while still being fun to play. If your loved one has dementia or struggles with more complicated games, there are lots of children’s games that are mentally stimulating enough.
The simple act of doing a puzzle has been proven to improve visual-spatial and memory skills in elderly people. In fact, lots of care homes have a puzzle room to encourage residents to spend time puzzling, either alone or with friends. Puzzles also slow blood pressure and breathing rate, making us feel calm and more relaxed, plus there’s that warm fuzzy feeling and sense of accomplishment we get from completing a puzzle!
Socializing With Friends
Socializing also helps to support brain health; whether it’s playing Bingo with a community group, strolling around the park with a local walking club, or just visiting with a neighbor.
Studies have even shown that social activities have been linked with a decreased risk of dementia. Unfortunately, many elderly people suffer from loneliness, which affects mental health as well as cognitive function.
If your loved one can get out and about each day for a social activity, this will be beneficial for their brain as well as their mood. Further, reminiscing about memories or remembering past events significantly improves memory.
Cooking And Baking
We all love to have fun in the kitchen—and the great thing is, it can also be beneficial for our mind! Cooking and baking involve planning ingredients, following a recipe, measuring out ingredients, mixing, stirring, and timing, all of which give our brains a mini-workout.
Plus, cooking and baking are wholesome activities that elderly people can do with their grandchildren, whipping up a batch of tasty treats or a favorite recipe for the whole family to enjoy.
Chess has a reputation for being a difficult game, but it does have lots of advantages for our brain. Chess teaches you strategy, improves visual memory skills, boosts focus, and encourages the use of logic as players read their opponent’s moves to keep their own chess pieces safe.
The best players are adept at memorizing different combinations of chess moves and game outcomes to further improve their game. Why not try a couple of games and see if you can pick it up?
If your loved one has a chess set, you can challenge them to a game or two at home, but they can also play online in their own time if they have a computer, tablet, or smartphone.
Learning A Language
Learning a new language is one of the best ways to challenge the brain and boost memory, even by memorizing and practicing a few new words each day. Language apps such as Duolingo and Babbel can quickly help you pick up a language, while books, audiobooks, and films are great for those who learned a language years ago but need a refresher.
If you or your loved one likes to read, there’s good news. Reading books improves cognitive skills and memory, as well as your vocabulary. Whether it’s newspapers, magazines, books, graphic novels, children’s books, or journals, reading of any kind can keep your mind in top condition.
If you then describe the story to a friend, you will further reinforce your memory, imprinting the story and its details in your mind.
Playing An Instrument
Music is one of life’s many stimulating activities and can be enjoyed by people of all ages, including older adults. As well as being entertaining, playing an instrument encourages the use of muscle and brain memory, as well as dexterity, whether you’re learning to play as a complete beginner, or you had lessons years ago but haven’t played since.
Pop quizzes and trivia games are another amazing way to stimulate the mind, as well as being entertainment that the whole family or care home can join in with. Trivia encourages memory recall, exercising parts of the brain that might have become lazy over time. Why not divide the family into teams to encourage some friendly competition, with a prize for the winning team? Quiz topics can even be based on your elderly loved one’s own hobbies and interests.
Games that are designed specifically to improve memory are fun to play and don’t have to be complicated. For example, you can try:
- The alphabet game: choose a theme and take it in turns to say objects, animals, places or people that begin with each letter.
- The tray game: put lots of different objects on a tray and challenge participants to remember as many items as they can when the tray is removed after five minutes.
- The shopping list game: go around the room to create a shopping list, with each person having to remember the items given by the previous person before adding a new one.
Simple games like these exercise short-term memory, which is useful for day-to-day tasks like food shopping.
Sleep is a highly underestimated tool for the brain. While we sleep, our body and mind rest and repair, processing the day’s memories and filing them away for later use. The perfect amount of sleep per night is unique for each individual, but as a general rule older people aged 65 or above need seven to eight hours of good quality sleep each night to feel rested and alert.
If your elderly relative has trouble sleeping at night, try reducing their caffeine intake during the day and encourage them to read books rather than watch TV before bed.
Eating A Balanced Diet
We all know that eating a balanced diet is good for us, both physically and mentally. A healthy diet with all the right components nourishes the mind as well as the body. When we reach old age, it’s still important to get all the right food groups, including eating a wide range of fruits and vegetables, whole grains of fiber, and reasonable amounts of dairy.
Foods that are overly processed or high in saturated fats should be avoided for a number of different reasons, as well as sweet treats such as pastries, chocolate, and alcohol.
We hope this article has given you some inspiration on how you can keep your mind active and healthy. Don’t feel that you have to stick to this list—photography, gardening, birdwatching, stamp collecting, flower arranging or any other hobby you have is also likely to be good for your mind and well-being.
Remember that it’s normal to experience some memory slips in old age, but if your loved one is really struggling with their memory and other cognitive tasks, book an appointment with their geriatric doctor for an assessment.
Will Donnelly is the co-founder of Lottie, a digital marketplace that connects care seekers to the best UK care homes at a fair price. He is one of the UK’s leading later living experts. Before co-founding Lottie, Will spent over 5 years advising the UK’s leading care and retirement operators and was part of the property team that helped the NHS throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.