Simple steps to keep mentally agile as you grow older to avoid Dementia
We all have moments when we forget where we have left things. Did I switch the TV off before coming to bed? What did I come upstairs for? And what is the name of that TV celebrity – it is on the tip of my tongue?
Tiredness, stress and simply having a lot going on can all contribute to our memory (or cognitive recall) not being a sharp as it used to be.
However, the decline in our cognitive function has long been considered an inevitable part of ageing, along with aches and pains and going grey. Our brains are just like any other muscle and can decline with age – especially as individuals move from a busy working life where mental requirements are usually quite high to a slower pace in retirement.
Training your brain
But, just as training other muscles of the body will ensure strength and benefits long into old age, training your brain like you do a muscle can ensure mental agility and has been shown to reverse ageing and cognitive decline.
Many people fear loss of memory or dementia as they age, but there are many things that you can do to remain mentally fit and, in some cases, even hold back illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.
According to the Alzheimer’s Society – “Keeping your mind active is likely to reduce your risk of dementia.”
The brain is a very clever thing. By the time we have reached our early twenties we have mastered a range of skills that we are using constantly. Reading, writing, driving, social skills, functions that mean we can do our jobs, and get on with everyday life. But eventually, our brains start to slow down and as the loss of brain cells begins to outpace the formation of new ones – so decline begins.
Our mental ability to replicate tasks has also declined as modern culture (and the age of the smartphone) has meant we no longer need to remember everyone’s phone number, or shopping list or memorise travel directions.
The brain is designed to be constantly used and stimulated and when it doesn’t have those challenges it starts to become lazy and degrade.
But it doesn’t have to be that way…
“What we do know is that keeping the body and brain active across life can go some way towards reducing the risk.” Clare Walton, research manager at the Alzheimer’s Society
Some simple way to tackle cognitive decline
There are lots of different theories about keeping the mind active and reducing dementia, but it is widely recognised that keeping mentally active and having a healthy body are two of the most positive and beneficial approaches.
Taking regular physical exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle and can help to maintain wellbeing. Physical activity creates valuable opportunities to socialise with others and can help improve and maintain a person’s independence. This is beneficial to both people with dementia and their carers. Engaging in physical activities can also improve self-esteem and mood, which in turn encourages more social engagement that may also contribute to wellbeing.
- Try tai chi
Easting a healthy diet
Evidence shows that a diet rich in fruit, vegetables and cereals, and low in red meat and sugar could help reduce dementia risks.
According to the Alzheimer’s Society, there is some evidence that eating a Mediterranean-style diet can reduce the risk of developing problems with memory and thinking, and getting some forms of dementia.
Mediterranean diets are traditionally high in fruits, vegetables, legumes and cereals, with moderate consumption of oily fish and dairy, and low in meat, sugar and saturated fat. Most fat in this type of diet comes from olive oil, and alcohol is consumed in moderation with meals. Research in the 1960s showed that men from Mediterranean regions who adhered to traditional diets had lower rates of heart attacks. This prompted continual investigation into the potential health benefits of the diet.
Mindfulness and meditation
Although it is not clear whether meditation has a direct effect on reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, it may improve several other conditions that can increase the risk for Alzheimer’s. For instance, meditation may reduce stress or anxiety. In addition, it may improve insomnia, reduce cardiovascular disease risk, and reduce blood pressure. Meditation is an easy and inexpensive activity that can be integrated into one’s life to improve general well-being and health.
Learning something new
Mentally stimulating hobbies are thought to help our brains to be more resilient to the effects of the marching of time and may help to delay the onset of age-related conditions such as dementia.
Studies have shown that whether you learn a new language or a new dance step, there is an ongoing benefit in the act of learning. We know that such education lowers the risk of dementia.
The key is trying something that is both unfamiliar and mentally challenging like:-
- Learning a language
- Doing a crossword
- Investigating your ancestry
- Learning to play an instrument
Research from the Alzheimer’s Society has found that ten minutes of social interaction a day helps improve wellbeing for people with dementia in care homes. Because even that modest level of social interaction can help break the cycle of isolation and depression that causes so many health problems.
For people suffering from dementia, social interaction can be challenging, yet its importance remains the same. That’s why it can be important to take a moment to learn more about how to encourage social interaction for a person with dementia, and what you can do to help.
Dancing is an obvious sociable pastime that is accessible to most older people. Dancing stimulates the brain and the body as well as tapping into the magic of music. It has lots of social elements as well as offering an opportunity for people to express themselves and most importantly to move.
You don’t have to be mobile on your feet to dance – there are a number of approaches where people can dance with their arms and feet while still seated.
Dance can even be incorporated into daily living tasks – try doing a dance with a person while walking into the dining room or the toilet!
All the evidence suggests that the combination of food, exercise and meditation could be a great way to reduce the onset of cognitive decline and dementia.
So let’s remain active, eat a healthy diet, and plan your days to include challenges and new adventures, learning and growing.
If you would like to arrange a visit to either of our care homes in Weymouth, or discuss your dementia care needs, please call Peter at our on 01305 787811.