10 Easy Ways to Boost Brain Power in Seniors

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Forget almost everything you have been taught over the years about the aging human brain. Almost 70 years ago, a scientist declared that the aging brain diminished in memory, agility, and functionality while increasing in senility. Without much challenge, this theory was accepted for decades and taught as fact.

In reality, more recent studies have shown that the aging brain can continue to function actively and effectively if we recognize its needs for nutrition, challenge, reducing stress, exercise and more. "Use it or lose it," say authors Alan D. Bragdon and David Gamon, Ph.D., in their book by the same title.

Many of today's older adults have also been influenced by the long-time assumptions that the brain, mind and memory of an older person is a failing process. Therefore, they turn their daily lives to endless viewing of television, unhealthy eating, and increased complaining while also increasing personal stress. They abandon dreams and direction for the future.

Improve Memory and Mind Function

  1. Games, fun and solutions: Introduce games to your parent -- games that call for thinking and evaluating before action. Playing cards with others can stimulate brain function while also providing sociable times with family members and friends. Puzzles, including crosswords, picture puzzles and word puzzles are great brain stimulants.
  2. Get grandkids involved: Ask them to work on and complete a puzzle or game with grandma or grandma every day, or every week. When such is accomplished, congratulate both grandparent and grandchild for being a great team. Again, social interaction boosts the benefit of doing fun puzzles.
  3. Start a diary: Suggest to your parent that she or he start a daily diary, and even buy a quality book or binder plus a special pen to start. Share with your parent that he or she has accomplished much over the years that should be shared and recorded from today's memory and thinking. Suggest, too, that the diary include "things or projects I want to do," so to define many positive events and projects for the future. When your parent starts sharing about tomorrow, a lot of stress and depression should start to disappear.
  4. Focus on nutrition: Proper nutrition is vital, particularly a diet strong in antioxidants. Fresh fruits and vegetables are vital to provide what other parts of the body or system may now be denying to the brain and its function. Other physical challenges are probably reducing the effectiveness of the immune system; therefore, the addition of all the more antioxidants can definitely benefit the brain and its function. Interestingly, most research endorses coffee and its caffeine ingredient as a benefit to better brain function. And caffeinated teas may be of similar benefit.
  5. Get Mom or Dad to stop smoking: Of course, this will be a challenge. But there are no benefits, but only negative effects to the brain from smoking. Smoking also contributes to diseases, including COPD. Remove the ashtrays and lighters from your parent's quarters. If you do smoke, don't do it when tending to Mom or Dad. Light up somewhere else.
  6. Start walking: Physical exercise and movement is vital to the functioning of the older adult brain and its best functioning. Daily walking, even several times around the block, is something that another family member, even a teenager, can accept as a voluntary assignment. If your parent has current challenges in walking, perhaps 30 minutes each day, then in-home exercises, as simple as standing on one leg for 12 to 20 seconds and shifting to the other leg, may be appropriate and effective. The exercise produces aerobic benefits to the brain as well as the lungs, heart and general physical condition.
  7. Invite visitors: Loneliness is a real downer for older adults, particularly if they withdraw from social events or relationships. Invite visitors to visit with Mom or Dad, whether on a one-time or weekly basis. Advise them to not discuss the problems of aging but to call on your parent for observations of historic times and events, current events, particularly because of their knowledge of the past and, importantly, about what your parent wants to do or accomplish tomorrow, next month or even years in the future.
  8. Keep them laughing: There's something to be said for the old saying "Laughter is the best medicine." The act of laughing has been proven to have health benefits. If your parent is isolated a lot, movies and books can provide entertainment. Both Netflix and blockbuster.com enable you or your parent to order movies online and they will be delivered directly to the home – no need to run out to the video store. In considering the best movies, start with selections from the 1920s and great films by Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton. Also include the great international films by Jacques Tati and Jules Dassin, to the outrageous concerts by Victor Borge. These films may represent points of importance in times past for your parent. Viewing the films give a comedic high while also helping to clobber depression and its negative side effects.
  9. Get out of the house: At least once each week, go somewhere with your parent. It may to a restaurant or bistro for a meal, a visit to a fair, entertainment or special event in your region or, even something as simple as lunch at the senior center. This continues to open the world to your parent, while ensuring that he or she is still part of it.
  10. Recognize your parent for his or her gains: This is a scary time for most older adults. When they were working or being active in the community, your parents felt respected and important. In older age, that sense of acceptance or identification is often lost. Try to get them involved in volunteering, where they can regain that sense of accomplishment. Additionally, praise your parent for even small accomplishments and recognize each success.

Leonard J. Hansen is the nation's pioneer in writing and editing to, for and about mature adults. He received 106 professional awards and fellowships for his creative work.

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22 Comments

Hi NAUSEATED,
I know exactly how you feel and what you are talking about, except for the mean part. My mother, who just turned 94 and has been diagnosed as having alzheirmers, isn't mean but she can be nasty at times, especially when something doesn't suit her. She was like that before she got dememtia so that can’t be used as an excuse.
All she wants to do is sit in front of the TV with her hands in her lap. The only time she gets up is to go to the toilet, the table, the bed, to bathe and dress, or to a medical appointment. She has even had "accidents" because she put off going to the toilet as long as she could because she didn't want to get up. She is making herself an invalid, both physically and mentally. She used to like to read the newspaper, Upper Room, and other things occasionally but stopped that when it got to be too hard to see. She’s the first person I’ve ever heard of that said they can’t use a magnifying glass (???). She has never liked to work puzzles or write letters so she didn't. She has never been a sociable person and never wanted friends. She isn’t the least bit interested in having any company, including mine. Mine doesn't mean anything either. I'm just the servant.
The only interests she ever had, other than going to church on Sundays, was working outside in the flowers, bushes, etc., working on her scrapbooks, and watching TV. She can't see good enough now to do any puzzles but a couple of years ago when she still could, I tried to talk her into doing word find puzzles. My blood relative (a biological sister) gave her a word find book. She looked at it for maybe five minutes then said what she always says about anything she doesn't want to do, "I can't".
Unlike some people, she has been blessed all of her life with excellent physical health. When she fell and broke her femur/hip two years ago while working outside, she came through that "with flying colors" because of her good health. That was the last time she went outside to do any yard work and she hasn’t been back to church since then either.
ANYTHING that would require thinking, figuring out, she has avoided like the plague. Her mind has gotten to the point that she doesn’t half know what’s happening on what she’s watching on TV and sometimes doesn’t even know when what she’s watching has ended and another show has started.
I realize that alzheimer’s will eventually do that to a person but, going by the things I’ve read, such as the articles on here, I am firmly convinced that a lot of her mental deterioration is due to her refusal to do anything that would exercise her brain. Even after I told her over and over that the brain needs exercise, she still wouldn't do anything. I just don't understand why, especially since I've heard her say more than once during my lifetime that there's nothing worse than somebody's mind going bad. She evidently doesn't care about her own.
She went so long without using it that she lost it. She wouldn’t learn anything new or different. She avoided learning like the plague too. She only wanted to do what she’d always been used to as if she’d been programmed to only do things a certain way. She'd always say, "I can't", without bothering to try. She won ‘t even think of something to watch out of our video collection if there’s nothing on the satellite that she wants to see. I have to do that for her too. The only thing she’ll do is turn the volume up or down, and sometimes I have to do that. Several years ago while she could still see and could think better than she can now, I tried to get her to go through the on-screen guide to look for something when her regular shows weren’t on but she refused to do it. She just fussed about her regular shows not being on and said she couldn’t stand to go through all those channels and then not find anything she wanted to watch. (???) She should have done it for the brain exercise if for no other reason but not her.
I could go on and on but I’m sure you get the picture. She could be a “poster child” for what not to do for both physical and mental well-being.
Thanks for letting me vent too. My blood relative and others who are only around her once in a while and don’t help with anything, want to make excuses for her because she’s “old” (so am I) and make me, the one that's trying to help her, out to be the bad guy. Sometimes it’s almost more than I can bear.
I get frustrated reading so many articles about how the brain is kept "healthy" by reading, doing puzzles, etc. My mother, now 86 has suffered from Alzheimer's for the last few years. I'm 52, and for all my life I can remember how much my mother read books. She read so many each week and so fast it was amazing. She passed that desire and habit on to her 5 children, which I'm grateful for. But, she also did thousands of crossword puzzles and jigsaw puzzles. She was an amazing seamstress, staying up late nights to finish dresses and outfits for her children and grandchildren. She cooked, cleaned, took care of kids and grandchildren, and she traveled with my father around the country camping in their trailer. She was always active and mentally alert and she loved learning new things. Why did Alzheimer's have to attack and ruin all that?
At what age is it perfectly acceptable behavior for people with the ability to do things, to do nothing for oneself or for anybody else and to have all bad behavior excused because of age? I'm 65, almost 66, which is legally elderly (old). Would it be acceptable behavior for me if I sent my mother to a nursing home and then just sat here with my hands in my lap, doing nothing, even though I'm able to do other things? If not,
what age would I have to be before that's ok?