As we age, it’s normal for our minds to start slowing down. We may not be able to remember things as well as we used to, and it may take longer to process information.
However, there are things that we can do to help keep our minds sharp as we age.
7 Steps To Help Keep Your Mind Sharp:
- Physical Exercise
- Incorporate the right foods
- Keep maintaining social ties
- Use games and puzzles
- Get quality sleep
- Learn new things
- Reduce or eliminate the consumption of alcohol and cigarettes
Which foods are the right ones for a better brain? Can exercise help with memory at all or does it just improve the body?
Keep reading, as we’ll answer those questions and more in this article.
At What Age Does Memory Begin To Decline?
Per the Queensland Brain Institute, memory in humans begins to decline in our 50’s and 60’s. However, some decline may begin as early as our 30’s or 40’s.
Memory decline is a normal part of aging.
One theory as to why this is happening has to do with cluttered memory.
Aging comes with wisdom and knowledge, but it also means older adults — those between 60 and 85 years of age — process and store too much information in their brains, “creating cluttered memory” that comes entangled with no-longer-relevant facts, knowledge acquired years ago and lots of distractions, the authors of a review of studies wrote in the March issue of Trends in Cognitive Sciences.today.com
Basically, the more information stored in your memory, the more you may have to sift through to get to the exact piece of information you are trying to recall.
Factors That Influence Cognitive Aging
Cognitive aging refers to the natural process of cognitive decline that occurs as individuals get older. Several factors can influence the rate and extent of cognitive aging.
Here are some of the key factors:
- Genetics: Genetic factors play a significant role in determining how an individual’s cognitive abilities change with age. Certain genes have been identified that can either increase the risk of cognitive decline or offer some protection against it.
- Health Conditions: Chronic health conditions like hypertension, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease can accelerate cognitive aging. These conditions can affect blood flow to the brain, leading to cognitive impairment.
- Lifestyle Factors: Habits such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and lack of physical activity can negatively impact cognitive health. On the other hand, a balanced diet, regular exercise, and mental stimulation can help maintain cognitive function.
- Medications: Some medications can have side effects that impact cognitive function. It’s essential to be aware of these potential effects and discuss them with a healthcare provider.
- Psychological Factors: Chronic stress, depression, and anxiety can contribute to cognitive decline. Managing these conditions and seeking treatment when necessary can help protect cognitive health.
- Environmental Factors: Exposure to toxins, pollutants, and certain chemicals can affect cognitive function. It’s crucial to be aware of potential environmental hazards and take steps to minimize exposure.
- Social Engagement: Staying socially active and maintaining strong social connections can have a protective effect against cognitive decline. Engaging in social activities and building meaningful relationships can stimulate the brain and support cognitive health.
- Education and Cognitive Reserve: Higher levels of education and lifelong learning can build a “cognitive reserve,” which can delay the onset of cognitive decline. Engaging in mentally stimulating activities throughout life can strengthen neural connections and enhance cognitive resilience.
- Brain Injuries: Traumatic brain injuries, such as concussions, can increase the risk of cognitive decline later in life. It’s essential to take precautions to prevent such injuries and seek treatment if they occur.
- Sleep: Quality and quantity of sleep play a crucial role in cognitive health. Chronic sleep deprivation can impair cognitive function, while good sleep hygiene can support brain health.
It’s worth noting that while these factors can influence cognitive aging, the exact impact can vary from person to person.
Additionally, ongoing research continues to uncover more about the complexities of cognitive aging and the factors that influence it.
7 Things Seniors Can Do To Improve Memory
Let’s begin by expanding on the points we introduced above.
Each can serve as the stepping stone to a healthier brain for an elderly parent or loved one *or yourself).
1. Physical Exercise
There is very strong evidence that the number one thing you can do to improve your memory is physical exercise.
Exercise increases blood flow to the brain. Due to its high metabolic demand, the brain demands good circulation, and exercise aids it. An increase in blood flow is not only extremely beneficial, it is essential. Exercise induces good blood flow to deliver all the nutrients required to carry out the brain’s job, while it also increases production molecules important to brain function, including memory.BYU College of Life Sciences
Recent studies have shown that people who exercise can learn, retrieve, and apply new information more easily than those who are sedentary.
So to help improve your memory, your brain function, and yes, even your body – exercise is extremely important.
Speak to your doctor though before beginning any exercise routine and it may be wise to begin a program under the supervision of a Physical Therapist or a professional trainer.
2. Incorporate The Right Foods
We’ll talk more in the next section about which fruits and other foods can best benefit the mind of a senior.
For now, know there is indeed a link between one’s diet and their memory.
According to data from 2016 published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, it’s believed that being overweight (also known as adiposity) and having conditions like hypertension and diabetes can affect both the brain’s function and structure.
3. Keep Maintaining Social Ties
Does your senior have friends they see regularly? If not, it’s time to get them out and social again.
Friendship Center in California cites a University of Michigan study that discovered that, even by spending 10 minutes socializing, it could help a senior’s brain.
They’ll have better mental performance.
4. Challenge The Brain Through Games and Puzzles
There’s nothing like a good game or puzzle to get the cogs in a senior’s brain turning.
These games can also be interactive, letting you spend quality time with an elderly loved one.
Keep reading for our recommendations of the best games for seniors, as we’ll come back to this later in this article.
5. Get Quality Sleep
It doesn’t matter how old you are, everyone needs to sleep.
Besides just giving the mind and body a chance to rest, sleep does a lot more without us necessarily realizing it.
An article from the National Sleep Foundation notes how our brains begin a special process when we’re in dreamland.
Our memories become solidified, meaning our brain’s ability to move information gets even better.
The National Sleep Foundation goes on to say that if a person learned some piano one day and then got some quality sleep that same night, they would be able to retain their accuracy and speed better compared to less sound sleepers.
6. Reduce Or Eliminate The Consumption Of Alcohol and Cigarettes
This recommendation comes from Harvard.
If the senior in your life truly enjoys alcohol, then it’s best to try to restrict them to one daily drink.
Those who still smoke even in their elderly years should be encouraged to quit.
According to Harvard, it’s possible to lessen the chances of a senior developing dementia by doing the above as well as eating healthfully, staying social, sleeping well, and exercising.
7. Always Be Learning New Things
A senior doesn’t have to stop learning when they graduate high school or college, and in fact, they shouldn’t.
Whether they decide to learn a new language, a hands-on skill, or anything else, they should be encouraged to do so.
The bottom line, as we age, it’s important to do things that will help improve our memory.
This can include eating healthy, staying social, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly.
Additionally, we should continue learning new things throughout our lives to help keep our minds sharp.
How To Keep Your Brain Healthy: All About Food
As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, the kind of food you eat plays a major role in the health of your brain.
Eat The Right Type Of Cholesterol
According to Harvard Health Publishing, you want to avoid foods containing with low-density lipoprotein or LDL cholesterol.
This type of cholesterol can hurt our arteries, both in our bodies and in the brain.
These foods form beta-amyloid plaques, which are thought to play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s.
Instead, stick to eating monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, which contain HDL cholesterol (the good kind).
Eat More Fruit
Fruits contain antioxidants, which can reduce inflammation in both the body and the brain.
FYI, berries, such as blueberries and strawberries, are big on antioxidants.
Eat Foods Containing Antioxidants And Omega-2 Fatty Acids
Don’t stop with just the above fruits!
The following edible eats contain antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids that could heal damaged brain cells and even create new ones.
Here are the foods to incorporate into a senior diet:
- Soybeans and other soy-based foods
- Whole grains
- Seeds and nuts
- Dark chocolate
- Oily fish
Which Foods Are Bad For The Brain?
While seniors don’t have to eat the above healthy foods exclusively, they should make sure to limit consumption of the following:
- Fish with a lot of mercury: While oily fish are okay for better brain health, some fish contain more mercury than others. Too much mercury can lead to mercury toxicity, in which neurotoxins are produced and the central nervous system is negatively impacted. Clearly, that’s not good for the brain.
- Alcohol: We already talked about this one, but here’s another reminder that seniors should strive to avoid alcohol. By drinking too much on a regular basis, the brain’s neurotransmitters may not work as well, according to 2011 data in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. Brain volume can also decrease.
- Aspartame: Okay, so aspartame isn’t really a food on its own, but rather a sweetener that goes into many of the foods we eat. The ingredients in aspartame are bad news for the brain. The phenylalanine in aspartame specifically may impact our emotions and our learning if we get too much of it.
- Trans fats: The unsaturated fats known as trans fats are a top ingredient in store-bought cookies, cakes, snacks, frosting, margarine, and shortening. A series of studies have concluded that eating too many trans fats affects cognitive function, decreases brain volume, worsens our memory, and could boost our chances of getting Alzheimer’s.
- Refined carbs: White flour and sugar are the basis of refined carbs. The increased glycemic load and glycemic index of these carbs skyrocket blood sugar and could decrease the functioning of the brain.
- Sodas and other sugar-heavy beverages: All that sugar in sodas and other beverages can destroy a person’s health no matter their age. As the blood gets bogged down with excess sugar, one’s chances of getting dementia go up.
Games To Keep Your Mind Sharp
We mentioned how we’d come back to games that seniors can play for a better brain.
Remember that the more senses you can engage, the better for the mind.
Here are some brain exercises to try:
- Sudoku: This puzzle game caught the world by storm within the last decade or so. Diehards still play it, so why not seniors, as well? I have some Sudoku puzzle apps on my phone and tablet, which makes them portable and a good way to pass the time when waiting for a doctor’s appointment, etc.
- Word puzzles: While Sudoku is numbers-based, word puzzles are all about using one’s memory to come up with words that fit the puzzle. From crosswords to word search games, word puzzles are great for seniors.
- Memory drawing: Ask your senior to draw something without looking at a reference photo. This can be a map, a logo for a popular company, or even a character from a TV show or movie they like.
- Mental calculations: Instead of pulling out a calculator to tally up groceries or the tip at a restaurant, you should try doing the math in your head. If the person who does this is up and moving, it could be even more advantageous for the brain.
- Recall: With this game, the senior looks at something like a list, a photo of people, or something of the sort. Then, they come back in about an hour to test how many details they can remember.
- Word pictures: Think of a word, then spell it in your head. Then try to think of as many words as you can that begin and end with the same letters. Example: you picture how to spell “bottle” – then think of words that begin with a “b” and end with an “e”, such as “broke, bike, bake”.
- Jigsaw puzzles: The jigsaw puzzles you loved as a child can be good for your brain. In fact, a 2018 study done by Fissler, et al, notes that “Jigsaw puzzling taps multiple cognitive abilities and is a potential protective factor for cognitive aging.” The study measured the cognitive abilities of long-term jigsaw puzzlers vs. seniors who only did puzzles for a 30-day period. “Our results indicate that jigsaw puzzling strongly engages multiple cognitive abilities and long-term, but not short-term JP [jigsaw puzzle] experiences could relevantly benefit cognition.”
You can read more about the benefits of jigsaw puzzles for seniors here.
When To Get Help For Memory Loss
If you find that a senior loved one is having memory problems that are risking their safety or impeding their daily life, it’s time to have their doctor talk to them and do a cognitive assessment.
Some things that can indicate the need for an assessment include:
- Putting on clothing backward (ie: putting a shirt on backward)
- Putting shoes on the wrong feet
- Not showering or shaving
- Not being able to do simple math problems, if they used to do so.
- Problems with word recall. You know the old saying, “It’s on the tip of my tongue”? We all have problems finding the right words once in a while, but if the senior is consistently struggling, it’s time for an assessment,
Simple forgetfulness is different than a consistent pattern of memory problems.
We have some great ideas for how to help a senior who is getting forgetful in our article, What Are Some Things To Do For Seniors With Memory Problems.
There are many ways to keep an elderly mind sharp.
From changing a senior’s diet to socializing more often, learning new skills, or playing brain games, they’ll be better off for it.
Not only can these activities act as bonding experiences, but they could help to prevent or hold off the development of Alzheimer’s and other diseases.