As we age, brain health is affected by various factors, from traumatic brain injuries or mood disorders such as depression or anxiety to conditions such as Alzheimer’s.
Why is cognitive stimulation so important for the elderly?
According to The CareSide’s survey results, cognitive decline is the top fear about getting older for Australians. In recent years, several studies have been conducted to show that cognitive stimulation has numerous benefits for older people, both in terms of improving cognition, functionality, and autonomy, as well as reducing depressive symptomatology and increasing their overall quality of life. Keeping the brain active is a preventative measure and helps to avoid and overcome some of the difficulties that arise as we age.
Mental stimulation can help prevent decline in cognitive abilities and supports cognitive skills in areas such as awareness, attention, reasoning and memory.
Keeping cognitive skills sharp and remaining mentally alert is essential for older adults as they age. It helps them stay focused and aware, which is necessary for a healthy lifestyle. These activities can be done by anyone however, regardless of their age or health status. Ideally, they should be tailored to an individual’s abilities and interests.
Here are some activities that stimulate an older adult’s brain.
The best cognitive activities for seniors
1. Stimulating brain games
Brain-stimulating games are perfect for helping older adults to stay focused, keep their minds sharp and clear, and work on their memory. These games also work on skills such as patience, creativity and imagination.
- Puzzles and riddles: these games help with short-term memory, aid in staying focused and concentrated, and help reduce stress. They also require imagination and attention to detail.
- Sudokus: Doing Sudoku is a highly complex mental game and there is a great deal of effort and logical thinking behind the placement of the numbers.
- Chess: As a strategic game, chess has great benefits for the people who practise it, since it requires great concentration and careful reflection on each move.
- Memory games: these can range from specific games to work on memory, such as finding pairs of cards, creating lists of objects and trying to remember them, or looking at photographs and remembering the elements that were in them, etc.
Many games help stimulate the brain, working on different skills and strengthening cognitive abilities that are very important for older adults. There is also the possibility of playing these games online, allowing the person to play at any time of the day. There are hundreds of pages, resources and applications on the Internet to play chess, Sudoku, strategy and memory games.
2. Learning new skills
There is no age limit to learning new skills. Keeping the brain active and learning new, mentally demanding skills can have significant benefits and help reduce some of the symptoms that older people often suffer from, regardless of whether they have dementia or not.
Several studies have been conducted to demonstrate that there is a positive relationship between learning and the psychological, mental and social aspects of health.
Here are some of the new skills that an older adult can learn to help stimulate their brain:
- Playing an instrument
- Singing, dancing or acting
- Painting or drawing
- Creative writing
- Card games or chess
- Computer skills
- Tai Chi, tennis, golf or walking soccer
3. Learning a new language
Learning a new language is a very beneficial activity for anyone of any age, and can be particularly useful for older adults. Learning a new language helps to keep the mind active, strengthen the memory and have a greater cognitive capacity. In addition, from a psychosocial point of view, learning a new language can help a person socialise, feel eager to travel or meet new people with whom to practise the language, and keep them busy.
An older adult can learn a language with a private teacher, in groups, be self-taught, or use resources available on the internet, from apps to online classes. Finding the way that best suits each person’s needs and preferences is key.
4. Gardening activities
The benefits of gardening activities for older adults are many. In general, gardening is a task that requires mental consistency and physical effort. Older adults can do this task alone or with someone to help if they have any difficulty with physical exercise or moving around. It is also an excellent activity to share with loved ones or caregivers.
Performing physical activity has great benefits for older adults, as we will see in the next section.
5. Physical exercise
From daily walks to yoga, stretching, or swimming, physical exercise greatly benefits people of all ages. Keeping our bodies active is a great way to take care of both our bodies and our minds.
Taking walks is one of the simplest and easiest exercises that can be done at practically any time. If the person does not have difficulty walking, this is an ideal physical activity, since it helps to socialise with other people and to interact with the environment, while also promoting mindfulness and independence.
In addition to those mentioned above, here are some of the other benefits of physical exercise for the elderly:
- Prevents atrophy, muscle and bone injuries
- Improves joint mobility
- Helps maintain respiratory capacity
- Enhances strength, endurance and flexibility
- Improves reflexes, coordination and balance
All these benefits translate into less chance of suffering injuries, better physical health for a longer period, and avoiding or reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression.
6. Changing routes and exploring new ways of doing everyday activities
An interesting and simple exercise for older adults is to try doing everyday things in a different way, such as changing the route of a path they usually take the same way, using their less dominant hand for everyday activities, or changing the method of transportation they use to get to certain places. This will help the individual to get out of their routine, stay alert and memorise new paths and ways of doing things.
Changing how we do things helps create new connections between brain cells, and by working with parts of the body that we tend to use less, we also help them become stronger.
7. Drawing, painting, writing or crafting
Doing creative tasks not only helps to activate the imagination but also stimulates the brain in general. Creative tasks have been linked to higher levels of dopamine in the brain, resulting in the person feeling happier.
Painting, drawing, model making, writing or other creative arts are great at any age to stimulate the brain and make us feel better. For older people, doing creative tasks helps to stimulate the brain and the expression of thought and is also an excellent way to stay engaged and distracted.
Humans are social beings. In general, older adults tend to be more isolated. However, a person must continue socialising at any age, as feeling lonely and isolated greatly impacts all aspects of their life.
Feeling isolated can lead to issues such as depression, feeling worthless, and feeling sad and alone. Communicating with others and having meaningful conversations is a way to improve mental well-being and stimulate the brain. Engaging in conversations requires us to listen, retain information, put our thoughts into words and actively communicate, which makes the brain active. Having a conversation is also a good way to engage and strengthen memory.
Seniors can surround themselves with their loved ones, friends, neighbours or caregivers to socialise. Another option is joining a local community or volunteering where they are in contact with other people. This will enhance their sense of belonging and help them feel functional, active and good about themselves.