Medical research shows that keeping your mind active as you age is just as important to your overall health as maintaining your physical fitness. As we get older, our mental health plays a vital role in our ability to live independently, so it’s important to seek out ways to challenge yourself and exercise your brain on a daily basis to ensure that it is functioning at its best for a longer period of time.
While there is still a lot of research that needs to be done, scientific studies continue to show that having fun, being active, and challenging your brain on a regular basis have a plethora of benefits, which include:
Improved Brain Function
It doesn’t require a huge time commitment to reap the positive health benefits of brain boosting games and exercises. Studies show that spending just 5 minutes a day on games, puzzles, and brain training exercises could significantly improve and protect cognitive ability. By dedicating as much time as you can to exercising your brain, you can maximize the results, which include improved memory, reasoning, information processing, and delaying the symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Improve Mental And Emotional Wellbeing
Living independently sometimes comes at a cost in that it can lead to loneliness and isolation. As we age, we are more vulnerable to issues like depression and anxiety, and being alone may intensify these feelings. Playing games and finding more moments of joy can improve your mental health.
Extend Your Life And Improve Physical Vitality
Physical activities are among the most popular for seniors. In addition to improving your physical strength, these activities release endorphins which promote happiness. Engaging in fun, playful activities can help boost your immune system, minimize pain, lower blood pressure, and reduce your risk for illness.
Popular and Inspiring Activities for an Active Mind
Traditional games like Bingo, Crossword puzzles, and Scrabble are a great way for seniors to exercise their brains, but it’s important to find fresh and inspiring ways to keep your mind active. The possibilities are endless and a lot of them are free or low cost.
Engaging in games and playful activities can improve memory, daily life skills, cognitive ability, and emotional wellbeing. To maximize the benefits, your brain needs to be challenged every day. That’s why it is important to find activities that speak to your individual interests and capabilities. Fortunately, there are a host of ways to keep your mind active that are fun and easy to enjoy anywhere, by anyone.
Here are some ideas that will hopefully get you inspired:
Digital Games for Brain Training
There are a number of apps and computer programs that have been designed solely for the purpose of increasing brain function. If you have access to a computer, smartphone, or large-screen tablet, these apps are available on nearly all platforms.
While technology may be intimidating for some, these apps are designed so that even the least tech savvy individuals can interact with them in an easy-to-understand and stress-free way. Online games are easy to find, quick to access, and fun to play.
One of the benefits of engaging in digital games is that most of them record your progress over time, so you have an actual account of your improvement, which leads to a sense of accomplishment. Also, these apps are designed to be visually exciting and engaging, so you are likely to engage with them more often.
Here are some of the most popular brain training apps:
- Fit Brains Trainer
Researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London have shown that online brain training games not only improve memory and thinking skills, but also how well elderly adults function in their everyday tasks like cooking, shopping, and managing their finances.
You can start seeing results pretty quickly. A recent study showed that seniors who completed brain training exercises on a daily basis for only 5 to 6 weeks saw improvement in their cognitive abilities and the effects lasted for at least 5 years.
While brain training isn’t a sure-fire way to prevent Alzheimer’s, it may delay symptoms and keep your mind working better for longer. Mental activity before the onset of Alzheimer’s helps bolster the brain therefore delaying mental decline as you age.
Arts and Crafts for Imagination and Dexterity
Being creative isn’t just a great way to get your brain buzzing, but it also helps maintain dexterity, hand-eye coordination, and fine motor skills. Learn something new or try a new hobby to keep your brain active and alert.
Adult coloring books are popular and easy-to-find in drug stores, dollar stores, and bookstores. With a quick online search, you can also find coloring books that are designed specifically for seniors. Watercolor painting is another great activity for those who struggle with coordination as they are easy to manipulate–a large brush and canvas help as well. Create a painting that reflects your mood on a daily basis, this encourages deep thought and reflection.
It is important to be proactive in finding ways to engage with others and open your world up as to increase your vitality and improve mental health.
Pastels are the perfect art medium for aging adults, as they are easy to hold and smudge with your fingers. Draw a scene of something that makes you feel calm and relaxed and hang it up as a daily reminder of what makes you feel that way. Look for pastels that come in larger sizes so that they are easier to hold.
Music and Meditation
Try creating a playlist of music that conjures up positive memories or that makes you feel happy. Music can help elevate your mood and lower blood pressure. It also activates your brain, improves cognition and attentiveness. Try to remember some of your favorite lyrics when you are done listening or spend some time meditating. Discuss how you feel with a friend or family member.
There are guided meditation apps that help to relieve anxiety and foster positivity, which can improve your mood over time if used regularly. Personal Zen is an app designed to do just that–reduce stress and anxiety while building positive habits when you use it for just 10 minutes a day several times a week. Use it for longer periods of time to build a resilience to stress or to help with more chronic anxiety.
Loneliness effects seniors more than any other age group, especially seniors without partners or spouses, who may spend an average of 10 hours alone per day. This leads to feelings of isolation and depression while also having a negative effect on thinking skills and mental stamina.
It is important to be proactive in finding ways to engage with others and open your world up as to increase your vitality and improve mental health. In fact, meaningful conversations can elevate your mood and outlook on life more than just about anything else on this list. Engaging in deep conversation also gives your brain a great workout.
Meaningful conversations can elevate your mood and outlook on life more than just about anything else on this list. Engaging in deep conversation also gives your brain a great workout.
Look for new ways to interact regularly with your friends and family or get involved with your community as a whole. Volunteering is a great way for seniors to activate their brains as you often learn something in addition to reducing isolation through the process of meeting new people and leaving your house. A quick online search will reveal a multitude of volunteer opportunities for people of all ages and ability levels from reading to children to caring for animals.
Consider starting a book club, even if it only includes one or two other people. Reading is a powerful way to improve your cognitive ability. By recounting the story and discussing what you’ve read, you improve memory while enjoying the social aspect of being with others. Make sure it is a recurring event that falls on the same day each month – that holds you accountable and gives you something to look forward to.
If physical limitations are not an issue, spending time in nature can be an effective way to promote relaxation and independence. It is also a great way to socialize and feel connected to your community and the world around you. Organize a nature walk and initiate conversation about animals, landmarks, history or anything else of particular interest.
If you are by yourself or with a small group, try to engage in mindful walking. This is an inward practice that focuses on the sensations you experience when you are in nature – the sights, sounds, and smells that you observe while walking. After your walk, you can think about the sensations you experienced on the walk and the emotions that were conjured up and discuss them with your group or journal about them if you are alone.
Puzzles can be a powerful way to tap into areas of your brain that may not have been stimulated for years, like logic and creative problem solving. Logic puzzles often require you to think outside the box and help to improve memory. Logic puzzle books can be found at better book stores and online.
Word puzzles also give your brain a great workout. Regardless of whether you solve every piece of the puzzle, the effort itself has a positive effect on your brain health. Word puzzle books are easy to find in drugstores and grocery stores, and if you don’t have one on hand, you can always find them online.
While jigsaw puzzles provide a fun challenge for children, they are also highly effective at stimulating the brain as we age. Additionally, they are a great way to help older people relax because they lower blood pressure and slow your heart rate. Don’t restrict yourself to flat puzzles, try 3D puzzles that provide an extra layer of dexterity and manual manipulation. Build your favorite landmarks, historical buildings, vehicles, and the list goes on. You can find 3D puzzles online and they range from $25-$100 on average.
Stimulating activities can help people with Alzheimer’s by encouraging self-expression, fostering emotional connections, reducing anxiety, and stirring up positive memories.
Games for Seniors Living with Alzheimer’s or Dementia
Research shows that brain games can be effective in delaying the onset of dementia in older adults. However, there are plenty of fun, stimulating games for those already suffering. Seek out games that offer social interaction and include an appropriate amount of mental stimulation –that may slow cognitive decline.
Stimulating activities can help people with Alzheimer’s by encouraging self-expression, fostering emotional connections, reducing anxiety, and stirring up positive memories. AARP.org explains the importance of finding meaningful activities, not just ones that fill time. Consider what your loved one enjoyed in the past and make adjustments to ensure that these activities are safe and free of frustration for them now. Some activities to consider include:
- Prepare simple recipes
- Household organization and cleaning
- Look at books or create a photo box
- Read the newspaper
- Tend a garden or visit a botanical garden
- Play music and sing songs
- Watch family videos or create a memory box
Crafting can also be a great way for seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia to keep their hands busy and produce familiar motions that reduce anxiety and calm nerves. These may include things like knitting with large gauge needles or painting.
If your loved one resists an activity or becomes agitated, take a break and modify the activity in a way that will make it more enjoyable for them. Focus on making sure the process is fun without worrying about results. The good news is that with a little imagination, the possibilities are endless and most of them are free or very low cost.
Video games are also becoming increasingly popular for seniors who suffer from dementia. More complicated games will be too difficult to master and will lead to frustration, but a simple puzzle game like Tetris is appropriately stimulating and easy to play. Conduct an online search to find other video games geared towards older adults and swap out some TV time for a more engaging alternative.
Much like our bodies, our brains also change as we age. Mental decline is one of the most feared effects of aging, but research shows that exercising your brain on a daily basis can strengthen your cognitive ability and maintain healthy brain function for an extended period of time.
Additionally, having fun plays an integral role in feeling truly alive, engaged and connected to other people and the world around us. Every senior deserves to experience joy and pursue things that improve their quality of life while staving off issues that commonly affect them, like dementia, loneliness, depression, and anxiety.
Anyone–regardless of physical capability, budget, or location–can find enjoyable and fulfilling ways to keep their mind engaged and alert as they age. With so many choices, it would be silly not to look for activities that could improve your quality of life immensely. Get back in touch with the things that make you happy–it may change you in surprising ways!