Use it or lose it -- a common phrase that appears to apply when it comes to good brain and body health. Companionship, too, can play an important role in healthy aging.
Q.I’m a 78-year-old woman of sound mind who still enjoys bridge, word games and other crossword puzzles, as well as many activities like dancing. I’m concerned because dementia runs in my family. Is there anything I can do to keep my mind sharp and alert?
It’s wonderful that you are in such good health, both mentally and physically. And yes, according to recent research, there are many ways senior citizens can continue to stay on top of their game. And it sounds as if you are already doing several of them.
An Ohio State University study has found that older people who exercise regularly are more likely to maintain brain function used for everyday tasks like following a recipe and keeping the pills they take straight. The study, which examined the exercise habits of 28 people with chronic lung problems for more than a year, found that routine workouts helped stave off not only the physical effects of aging, but also the cognitive decline.
Other studies have supported the theory that engaging in mentally stimulating activities can help keep your mind sharp. For example, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that seniors age 75 or older who participated at least twice weekly in reading, playing games (chess, checkers, backgammon or cards), playing musical instruments and dancing, were significantly less likely to develop dementia.
The study discovered that those who did crossword puzzles four days a week had a much lower risk of dementia than those who did one puzzle a week. One physical activity -- ballroom dancing -- had a significant impact, possibly because of the mental demands of remembering dance steps, responding to music and coordinating with a partner.
Companionship also seems to make a difference. A study published in Health Psychology found that seniors who reported more demands from social relationships had better cognitive functioning.
If you can include friends and family in your activities, you will benefit from mental stimulation as well as fulfilling companionship. Or consider hiring a non-medical caregiver, such as someone who works for the local Home Instead®. The company’s CAREGiversSM are screened, trained, bonded and insured, and matched with clients who have similar interests.
It could keep you younger longer!