Whether the senior in your life is starting to experience a decline in cognitive health or you yourself don’t want to have memories slipping away, you need to keep the brain as sharp as possible. Should you introduce more nutritious foods into your senior’s life? Should you be playing brain games? What is the best way to improve a senior’s mind?
Here’s how to keep an elderly mind sharp and healthy:
- Incorporate the right foods
- Keep maintaining social ties
- Challenge the brain through games and puzzles
- Get quality sleep
- Reduce or eliminate the consumption of alcohol and cigarettes
- Learn new things
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.
What Can Seniors 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) 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, just 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.
(2) 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.
(3) 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 be interactive, too, letting you spend some 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.
(4) 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 Foundationnotes 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.
(5) 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.
(6) 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.
How To Keep Your Brain Healthy: All About Food
As we alluded to before, food plays a major role in the health of one’s brain. Harvard Health Publishing posted an article about how foods with low-density lipoprotein or LDL cholesterol can hurt our arteries, including those in our brain. This leads to the formation of beta-amyloid plaques, which could possibly be responsible for the development of Alzheimer’s.
It’s much better for a senior to consume polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, as these have more high-density lipoprotein or HDL cholesterol. That’s the good kind, by the way.
Here are some dietary suggestions to follow:
Fruits For Brain Power
The following fruits contain plenty of antioxidants, which can lessen the brain’s inflammation and stress, which in turn may prevent seniors from getting Alzheimer’s. These fruits are:
- Avocados (yes, they’re a fruit)
Memory Sharp Foods
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: Soy has polyphenols, a type of antioxidant that keeps up our cognition and may help seniors avoid dementia.
- Kale: The glucosinolates in kale boasts minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants.
- Broccoli: Another great veggie for seniors is broccoli. It too has glucosinolates. Besides that, its antioxidant content is high, its isothiocyanates could control oxidative stress, and it’s low in calories.
- Eggs: Although eggs have gotten a bad rap in recent years, they can be healthy. It’s possible that the folic acid, vitamin B-12, and vitamin B-6 in eggs could slow down how long it takes for a brain to fall into decline. They also keep the brain from shrinking.
- Peanuts: Mulberries and peanuts alike contain an antioxidant called resveratrol. This could keep diseases and conditions like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and cancer at bay.
- Coffee: Coffee may also help the brain. It turns out that adenosine, a type of brain substance that causes fatigue, can’t work as well with caffeine coursing through our veins. There’s also a potential positive link between coffee and our ability to process data.
- Whole grains: Whole grains can lead to both a healthier body and brain. These foods contain a lot of vitamin E, which could prevent Alzheimer’s and keep the brain’s cognition on track.
- Seeds and nuts: Lots of nuts and seeds are also jam-packed with vitamin E. Besides that, these foods have antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids for a better-functioning brain.
- Dark chocolate: Yes, that’s right, dark chocolate can be good for brain health! The cacao in this type of chocolate is rich in flavonoids. These antioxidants keep blood moving throughout the brain. It’s also believed that the brain gets more blood vessels and neurons with enough cacao flavonoids, specifically in brain areas involved in learning and memory.
- Oily fish: Oily fish such as sardines, herring, tuna, mackerel, and salmon have plenty of omega-3s. Through consuming these fatty acids, one may be able to enjoy improved cognition as the brain receives more blood.
Memory Boosting Supplements (What Is The Best Vitamin For Memory?)
Sometimes the senior in your life can’t consume the above-mentioned foods for a variety of reasons. For example, maybe they can’t chew some of them, perhaps they have an allergy to some of these foods, or maybe they just don’t like some of them. In any of those cases, a memory-boosting supplement can be a good alternative to balance out the diet.
There’s no one best vitamin for memory, but rather, there are several a senior could try. These include vitamin B, vitamin C, and vitamin E. They could also try supplements that contain ginseng, magnesium, or beta-carotene. The latter two can erase deficiencies while ginseng could aide brain performance.
*NOTE: some supplements can interfere with medications, so it is best to clear any memory boosting supplements with the senior’s doctor before taking them.
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, says 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 fat 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 skyrockets blood sugar and could decrease 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.
How Does Physical Exercise Affect The Brain?
Because it seems like it would only benefit the body, you may be wondering how does physical exercise affect the brain? Turns out that staying active gives the brain a boost, too. In getting up and moving around, a senior is more likely to harness social connections, which we already know are good for the brain. Exercise help seniors maintain their weight, too, which again benefits their brain. Also, certain exercises can draw on a senior’s fine motor skills, keeping their hand-eye coordination impressively good.
And last but not least, getting regular exercise promotes vascular health, which in turn helps keep brain tissue healthy.
This 2017 article from HealthyBrains.org cites an American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry study that discovered that hippocampus volume can go up even by doing light to moderate exercise. The key is keeping it up over the long-term. HealthyBrains.org says a mix of balance, strength training, and aerobics is ideal for a healthy senior. Balance exercises may include yoga or tai chi while cardio activities are swimming, biking, and even walking.
Along with providing better physical health, getting outside and walking or biking stimulates the mind because you are seeing new things and getting a new perspective on familiar things. In an article from Everyday Health, Dr. Robert Bender, MD, medical director of the Johnny Orr Memory Center and Healthy Aging Institute in Des Moines, Iowa, reported that, “When the brain is passive, it has a tendency to atrophy.”
This means it is very important to avoid getting into a rut by being sedentary and sitting in front of the television. Dr. Bender noted that, “some researchers believe that people are more vulnerable to dementia when they pay less attention to the things around them.”
To stimulate your mind (or your senior loved one’s), try taking novel approaches to routine, day to day tasks.
- Drive to work or back home along a different route. You’ll have to think about where you are turning or going, which will make your brain more active than your usual, learned route does. Additionally, you will see new scenery, which further interests your brain.
- Try brushing your teeth or your hair with your opposite hand.
- Cook a different food than normal to engage your sense of smell and taste, as well as learning a new recipe. Maybe you like Indian food, but have never tackled cooking a favorite dish. Buying the spices, smelling them and identifying their scent, tasting the result – all of these give your brain something new to process.
- Say the lyrics to a song instead of singing it. Try to get as far into the song as you can by speaking the words – without resorting to humming the tune. Your brain does well with association, which is why hearing the music can help you remember the words to a song.
- Learn something new – a foreign language, take music lessons, try a new craft.
- Eat a meal with your non-dominant hand.
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 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.”
When To Get Help For Memory Loss
If you find that a senior loved one is 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 backwards (ie: putting a shirt on backwards)
- 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 awhile, 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 getting them exercising, 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.