Staying Sharp - Mental Stimulation for Seniors

What do you call memory loss in a parrot? Polynesia. Ba – dum – BUM. That may be funny (or not), but memory loss is no joke. What can we do right now to prevent memory loss? Read on! Get ready to learn the why’s and hows of keeping the older people in our lives (or OURSELVES) mentally engaged and sharp.

First and foremost, let’s debunk the myth that the mind has to fade away with time. Nonsense! Our brains are resilient, adaptable creatures. Research of the last twenty years in the area of neuroplasticity has been great news for all people – elementary students who think they’re ‘dumb’ and seventy-year-olds who think they’re ‘old’. Harnessing mental stimulation to strengthen neural connections is a key part of maintaining mental acuity.

Imagine your brain as a bustling metropolis of neurons. When activated, there’s literally an electrical charge that jumps from one neuron to the next. Talk about cool! Engaging in activities that challenge the mind—like puzzles, games, or learning new skills—keeps those neurons on their toes, forging new connections every minute.

You might be thinking: “But why does mental stimulation matter for seniors?” Well, aside from the fact that a lively mind is a happy mind, there are some serious advantages to keeping the gray matter in good shape.

First off, mental stimulation is the secret sauce for cognitive health. It’s like sending your brain to the gym. Regular mental workouts can stave off cognitive decline, keeping memory loss and fuzzy thinking at bay. Think of it as a brain spa day—refreshing, invigorating, and necessary.

But wait, there’s more! Mental stimulation isn’t just about preventing the brain from going a bit wonky; it’s also about enhancing the quality of life. Engaged minds are happy minds, and happy minds are the life of the party. Seniors who keep their brains buzzing with activity often report higher levels of satisfaction and a greater sense of purpose.

Now, let’s talk about strategy. How do we kick our seniors’ brains into high gear? The key is to make it fun and engaging. When you see a group of people laughing and having fun, you’re naturally curious, right? A lively, inviting activity is just what the doctor ordered to keep our neurons healthy.

Start with puzzles. Some examples of this type of puzzle include Sudoku, crossword, word find, jumble, and more. Crosswords range from very easy to the Sunday New York Times. Regardless of the difficulty level, there’s something satisfying about putting letters into boxes (or is that just me?). An advantage of puzzles like these is that they’re portable, and no partner is required.

Jigsaw puzzles are also great for staying mentally engaged, and they’re social, too! Independent/assisted living facilities often have one or two jigsaw puzzles going constantly, allowing residents to jump in and participate at will.

Next up, games. While the games on your phone might have some value, they aren’t associated with the neuron growth we want. Time to break out the board games! Games like Scrabble, Memory, and Clue get players thinking. Guess Who is an old-fashioned game in which players decipher clues to determine who is who. Similarly, Mastermind (developed in 1970) requires players to use data to inform choices.

Traditional games like Mancala, cribbage, chess, and checkers are classics for a reason! Employing strategy gives our neurons a workout! These games usually require two or more to play and aren’t as portable as a crossword book, but have so much social value.

Another great idea is an old-fashioned game of charades! Getting the whole body involved is great for the brain,  while laughter is a fantastic workout for the brain’s funny bone. It’s fun to reminisce about movie or song titles of yesteryear and connect over memories!

Learning a new skill is another brain-boosting adventure. Whether it’s picking up a musical instrument, trying out a cooking class, or learning a new language, the key is to step out of one’s comfort zone. Our brains love patterns – but after a while, these patterns can become RUTS. That’s why novelty is so great for brain development in all people, regardless of age.

Let’s celebrate the wisdom that comes with age and the incredible power of a well-stimulated mind. Mental stimulation is not just a nice-to-have; it’s a must-have for a vibrant and fulfilling life. Try one or more of these strategies, and keep a running list of what works and what doesn’t. It’s worth the effort!