Many aging adults worry about cognitive declines. Shifts in processing speed and working memory are common. Bigger losses can occur when seniors become mentally inactive. Just as you need to be active to promote physical health, research shows that staying cognitively engaged promotes brain health.
Of course, you can always put your brain to work by having a routine or schedule with daily activities, interactions with other people, and hobbies (such as reading) that engage your mind. However, you may also want to more intentionally utilize specific exercises to maintain and promote good brain health. To get started, try any or all of these three exercises to improve your brain health:
1. Games and Puzzles
A particularly easy way to stay mentally active is by playing games and solving puzzles. Games are not just fun, many of them challenge the mind, using processes that you want to keep sharp. Playing games with other people will also give you an opportunity for social interaction, which is also helpful for the brain. Board games and card games are both good options. Even playing the classic game of solitaire will give your brain a good challenge. There is a reason this game has been popular for so long!
If you want to try puzzles, the crossword and sudoku puzzles printed in the daily newspaper are a great option. Not only will they promote your brain health, but you can have a real feeling of satisfaction when you complete them. Assembling jigsaw puzzles will also give you a mental workout. Choose detailed designs that will really challenge you to think critically about which pieces go where.
2. Memory Challenges
Since working memory often declines with age, you will want to use mental exercises to challenge your memory abilities and help them remain sharp. While some games and even puzzles engage your memory, you can also more intentionally challenge your memory even without the structure of games.
One memory exercise you can engage in, is to work your way through the alphabet and try to think of a word, object, animal, location, or food/dish that starts with each letter. Try a different category each day, to really challenge your brain to think about and recall different types of information. Another challenge you can give yourself is to recall the plots of books you have read or movies you have watched. Finally, engaging with trivia games online can help to challenge your long-term memory.
3. Fluency Tasks
As noted, another area of cognitive functioning that often declines with age, is processing speed. To promote brain health and stave off these declines, you will want to engage with fluency tasks. A fluency task can be any activity that prompts or requires cognitive activity in a timed format.
For example, similar to the task described above, you might take just one letter of the alphabet and list out all the animals, locations, foods, or objects you can think of that start with that letter, within a one-minute time limit. You could also give yourself one minute to look around the room you are in and identify 5 red objects, 5 orange objects, and so on (working your way through the colors of the rainbow). Both of these timed tasks promotes rapid thinking and helps maintain brain health for processing speed.
The main goal for seniors, who want to maintain their brain health, is to do at least one thing every single day that challenges the brain. By being generally active there will be consistent mental engagement and then adding in these more intentional tasks will really give the brain a work-out. For additional ways to promote your brain health, consult with your doctor and nutritionist. Many seniors elect to work with professionals, who can provide additional advice for their unique situation.