Leisure Activities May Slow the Effects of Age-Related Cognitive Decline

By Guest Blogger George Mears, contact info below.

If you think word puzzles and Solitaire are just child’s play, think again. Harvard Health reports that playing games that stimulate the brain can slow the effects of dementia and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Any activity that stimulates the brain should be able to keep it healthy. Triggering the part of the brain that requires problem-solving initiates new cell growth and aids in the development of neurological plasticity. If you are concerned about your own aging process or a one who has shown signs of cognitive decline, the following activities, when coupled with lifestyle changes, can help keep their mind sharp.

Brain games:  Stimulating neurological function doesn’t have to be a chore. Medicare.org lists numerous activities that could easily pass for recreational endeavors. These include traveling and, for tech-savvy seniors, online games and apps such as BrainHQ and Game Show, the latter of which was developed by the University of Cambridge and has been shown to improve certain types of memory by 40 percent. BrainHQ is the brainchild of Posit Science’s Kavlie Prize laureate Dr. Michael Merzenich. This Internet-based software, which is based on more than three decades of research in neurological sciences, has proven effective in enhancing brain function in people of all ages.

Making memories: Brain-boosting activities don’t have to be relegated to your home or computer. There are plenty of games that you – or your senior loved one – can play while out and about. One that’s particularly helpful involves memorizing four unique details of people met in public. For instance, if you’re at the shopping mall and see the security guard, note details about him. This might include if he’s wearing a hat, carrying a firearm or stun gun, wearing sneakers or boots and clean-shaven or has a beard.

More math please: Games and activities that are slightly uncomfortable are perhaps the most beneficial. Psychology Today contributor William R. Klemm, Ph.D. explains that lifetime learning and experiences can help battle the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. And there’s perhaps no other subject that has the power to challenge the mind greater than math. Thankfully, seniors don’t need to learn complex mathematical equations in order to reap the benefits of numbers. Something as simple as playing bingo can elevate a senior’s memory, comprehension and mental speed.

A puzzling concept: Doing math and completing word problems are fun, but they’re not for everyone and may be a source of frustration if deemed too complicated. Working puzzles, however, is an activity that doesn’t require immediate completion and can be played as a matching game. Caring.com notes that large-piece jigsaw puzzles are a great option for the elderly if eyesight and joint pain are a problem. Putting together jigsaw puzzles can strengthen a senior’s motor skills and their ability to recognize patterns. Plus, it’s relaxing and can become a group activity.

It’s time to be “board:”  Scrabble, backgammon, chess, and checkers are all board games with a purpose. Researchers in France have found a positive correlation between individuals who regularly play board games and a lowered risk of dementia. The US National Library of Medicine has posted the results of a 20-year study online and suggests that playing board games can help preserve cognitive function. Checkmating your best friend on a regular basis may even lessen the effects of depression, which is also linked to neurological impairment.

Brain games, specifically those that can be done online or at home, are particularly beneficial for seniors who may have mobility issues that prevent participating in physical activities, such as shopping or playing bingo. It should be noted, however, that there are many factors that play a part in an individual’s cognition level including diet, exercise, family history and overall health.

By Guest Blogger George Mears is a brain fitness expert, educator, and counselor. He loves sharing his thoughts and favorite brain fitness exercises at BrainWellness.info.