As the saying goes “growing old isn’t for the faint of heart” which not only includes the physical changes of life but mental changes as well. We’ve all had those “senior moments” of not being able to think of someone’s name or forgetting where we put our cell phone. It’s similar to the “use it or lose it” mentality when it comes to muscle mass – either you train and improve your brain’s memory mass preventing cognitive decline or possibly risk losing it altogether.
Many studies have had good results showing improvement in memory skills amongst the elderly. It has consistently been shown that as we age, if we keep our life active – mentally, socially and physically – we tend to be healthier with less risk of mental decline and dementia.
A 2012 Memory Fitness Program showed that a 6-week healthy lifestyle program did improve the ability to absorb and recall new verbal information as well as showing signs of improvement in memory. It never hurts to do what it takes to keep our mind clear and sharp as a tack.
Is it possible to stall a fading brain from falling into the abyss of dementia? Possibly. Experts recommend to do activities that challenge your cognitive capabilities such as learning a foreign language, playing bridge or chess, crossword puzzles or putting puzzles together, or taking a college class are all better than staring mindlessly at the TV or a computer.
Another option is computer-based brain training programs targeting key cognitive skills. Luminosity is one such computer-based gamed developed by scientists and game programmers to enhance memory skills and thinking. Another one is called NeuroNation, which is a customized brain training program setting you up with training goals and a training plan.
Proving the success of these mental workouts is difficult because of so many variables. Is playing the computer games really benefitting you with enhanced memory skills or is it better to go the “natural” route of playing board games or learning a new skill?
Keep in mind doing one kind of training may not necessarily carryover to other kinds of mental discipline or provide benefits beyond the particular skill. For example, you may be an expert at playing chess but will it help you remember names and how to balance your checkbook?
What is known is that even if flexing your brain power doesn’t result in preventing dementia, just the mental activity itself can at least delay or slow the progression. The simple act of using your mind enriches your life by banishing boredom, decreasing depression, and connects you with others.
If you like playing computer-based brain games, go for it. If you prefer more traditional means of stimulating the brain, go for that too. The best bet is to combine the two - sometimes play computer games and other times go for a nature walk identifying flowers or birds. If you’ve always wanted to learn how to paint, play cards or do volunteer work, don’t let anything hold you back. These activities can bring a wealth of a sense of accomplishment that is fun and rewarding. Take trips that provide educational tours, visit museums, and read up on the local culture of where your travels take you.
One thing not to forget in maximizing brain power is to also include physical exercise, control blood pressure, maintain a healthy body weight, treat depression and eat a heart healthy diet. If there’s one thing to remember, what’s good for the heart is good for your brain.