Keeping our brains sharp requires a bit of effort on our part. Effort with a payback!
Here at Senior Care Corner we often talk about brain health because it is such an important topic to our senior loved ones and thus to us as family caregivers.
It’s also one area where personal actions can impact the outcomes we and our seniors experience.
Unfortunately, knowing what you and your senior should be doing to keep your brains sharp and actually doing it are not the same thing.
It’s a lot (maybe too much) like losing weight — we know what it would take but don’t seem to get to it!
Exercising Positive Influence
Because our brain health is in our control, at least to some degree, we and our senior loved ones can continue to look for proven ways to not only understand how important our actions and lifestyle choices are to improving our health but also translating that knowledge into action.
As a result, we want to help you by providing tips, things you and your senior loved one can do every day to make a positive impact on your brain health.
Family caregivers can improve their own well-being but also help their seniors strengthen their brains when they incorporate some of the suggestions into the daily routine.
It is never too late — or too early — to train your brain and help it be healthy!
Tips to Train Your Brain
There is a great amount of research completed and in progress looking at ways to keep our brains healthy and prevent them from deteriorating. What they have found so far is that there are specific things you and your senior loved ones can do to make an impact on your brain health.
Some are easier than you might think and others are just plain fun!
There is so much research and subsequently programs utilizing music to stimulate cognition that it has been called medicine for your mind. Listening to music, or better yet playing a musical instrument, can stimulate your brain. Because your brain has to compute the notes coming one right after the other, there is an “exercise” process to enjoying music.
Researchers suggest not to get too comfortable with the music you love, but challenge your brain with new music and genres of music too. Your old favorites will help you reminisce bringing back memories you have connected with a particular tune.
You and your senior need to give your brain a workout and keep it active so that it can be at the top of its game. Many neurologists and researchers have begun to stress the fact that the best way to keep your brain strong is by challenging it every day.
It is great fun to be the best crossword puzzler in the country, but a new activity that challenges your brain through learning and firing up new circuits is better for your brain. Many recommend learning a foreign language, learning to play a musical instrument or learning a new skill.
Playing brain games will help but try different games to challenge your brain. Stay engaged every day to keep your brain strong. You could also participate in art and craft projects.
(3) Physical Fitness
Having a healthy fit body will give you and your senior a healthy brain too. Researchers found that 20 minutes of physical exercise can improve memory and brain function.
Aerobic exercise such as walking, jogging, bicycling, dancing, swimming, etc. increases the amount of oxygen and nourishing hormones circulating in your blood entering your brain that lead to improved brain health. It helps cell growth and nerve connections to strengthen your brain.
(4) Heart Health
Research has shown that living a heart healthy lifestyle will also help your brain, what is good for the heart is also good for the brain.
A heart healthy lifestyle includes physical activity, healthy diet, no smoking, managing blood pressure, and keeping a healthy weight. All these factors contribute to improved heart health and also brain health.
There has been shown to be reduced incidence of dementia, memory loss and cognitive problems when someone incorporates all aspects of a heart healthy lifestyle into their day.
(5) Immune system
Once thought to be insulated from the brain by the blood brain barrier, it now looks like the immune system not only heals the brain after injury but keeps it functioning properly. Researchers think that negative changes in immune function over time might contribute to changes in brain function as well, not for the better, since they are thought to be more closely linked than was previously supposed.
(6) Life Long Learning
There are centers in many communities devoted to helping seniors participate in lifelong learning. It could be something your senior loved one always wanted to learn, like crocheting, or it could be something new like navigating Facebook.
One such center is the Bernard Osher Foundation Lifelong Learning Institute for those over 50. They are located across the country, often affiliated with colleges and universities. They allow those 65 and over to audit free uncredited courses, which opens up a variety of new knowledge to seniors.
The more researchers learn, the more information they make available that stresses the importance to us and our seniors of a good night’s sleep.
It has been recommended that we all get at least 6-7 hours of sleep every night. Altered sleep can create memory loss. During sleep your brain works overtime to repair the events of the day.
You and your senior loved one both need friends and social interactions to keep dementia and other cognitive changes at bay. Although researchers are not yet clear what exactly takes place in the brain during socialization or when socialization ceases, they do know that being socially engaged is a key factor in preventing cognitive decline.
How can you and your senior stay engaged socially? Communicating with friends and family instead of isolating ourselves, attending church, talking on the phone or interacting online, attending community events, volunteering, going to the senior center, traveling, finding a book club and connecting every day.
Researchers state that it is not just the number of connections you make but the depth of the connection.
Overall Health Important Too
In addition to these lifestyle options, we also know the importance of eating right. You and your senior need to eat a healthy diet that is low in fat and rich in nutrients for our brains and the rest of our bodies. You and your senior also need to get enough water to drink each day to stay well hydrated. This will allow your cells to function at their peak.
You and your senior also should take steps to manage overall health. If parts of us are unwell, so will our brains be unwell. If you or your senior have problems with blood sugar control, you need to manage it and reduce your blood sugar levels to prevent damage to the blood vessels in your brain that can lead to a loss of cognition.
Another area that should garner some attention is our stress level. If you and your senior feel stressed, it will be better for your brains to deal with it so that the physical effects are not harming your brains. No one has no stress but some of us and our seniors feel a great deal of stress that is not good for us.
By focusing attention on what you and your senior choose to do every day – eating, drinking, moving and socializing, you both can help your brains stay strong together!