Many people think that becoming forgetful and slowing down mentally is a fact of growing older. But it doesn’t have to be.
Here are some tips for how to stay sharp in old age. You can use these to help your aging parent maintain their brain health. You can also use them to keep your own mind healthy as you start to age.
Why do we experience cognitive decline with age?
As we age, all areas of our body experience change. For example, some common changes that could affect your brain as you age include:
Some parts of your brain begin to lose volume
Communication between nerve cells isn’t as effective as it used to be
Blood flow within your brain slows down
Inflammation may increase
Researchers think these age-related brain changes are behind the differences in brain functioning that many people notice as they age.
Everyone experiences lapses in memory from time to time. It’s not uncommon if you’re stressed out, feel ill, or sleep-deprived. However, significant memory loss isn’t a normal part of getting older.
If your parent is experiencing severe memory loss, encourage them to reach out to a doctor for a medical workup.
How to stay sharp in old age
Here are some scientifically-backed tips for helping your parent stay cognitively healthy as they get older.
Always be learning
Whether it’s learning a new skill, reading a book, or pursuing a hobby, education keeps your parent mentally active. This mental exercise builds and preserves connections in the brain. As a result, seniors can stave off cognitive decline.
In addition, regular reading and writing can reduce seniors’ rate of memory decline by 32%. You can help your parent make reading a habit by:
Helping them to join a book club
Setting up to read to grandchildren, either in person or through video chatting
Gifting them a subscription to their favorite magazine or newspaper
Encouraging them to volunteer tutoring children in reading
How you nourish your body impacts your brain as you age. Following a Mediterranean diet can help your parent cut their risk of Alzheimer’s disease by up to 40%. The similar MIND diet can also be good for brain health.
These diets can help protect your parent’s brain by improving heart health, preventing high blood pressure, and providing essential vitamins and minerals.
If you’re looking to help your parent stay sharp in old age, encourage them to consume more of the following foods for brain health:
Fatty fish rich in Omega-3 fatty acids
Social isolation can increase your parent’s risk of dementia by 50%. In contrast, having at least a few close friends can keep your parent’s mind active as they age.
Making new friends or spending time with the ones they have can be good for your parent’s brain and lower the risk of dementia. Your parent doesn’t even have to socialize in person. One study showed that older adults who learned to use Facebook scored higher on memory tests than seniors who didn’t.
Stress is a natural part of life, and a little stress can be good for you. Working your brain or body hard for a short period of time can actually help you stay sharp as you age.
The problem starts when stress becomes chronic. Chronic stress is toxic to your brain and can hurt your cognitive health.
Engaging in relaxing activities such as mediation helps strengthen the areas of your brain associated with focus and attention. It also improves your sleep, which is critical for storing and consolidating memories.
Limit smoking and alcohol
Research shows that both smoking and heavy alcohol use reduce your cognitive function. For the best brain health as you age, it’s best to quit smoking and only consume alcohol in moderation.
Pay attention to heart health
Having a healthy cardiovascular system means that blood flows better to all of your organs, including your brain. In turn, this is associated with improved cognitive function as you age.
To ensure your parent’s heart and brain health as they age, encourage them to follow their doctor’s recommendations for controlling:
Listening to or playing music improves memory function in adults. It’s also highly enjoyable for most people and an excellent way to reduce stress.
Help your parent to find their favorite music on YouTube or a streaming app. Check your local activities for group music lessons or performing groups that your parent might enjoy.
Get plenty of sleep
The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) recommends that adults 65 and older should aim for seven to eight hours of sleep each night for good health. In contrast, being sleep-deprived can negatively affect your parent’s physical and mental health.
These negative effects of sleeplessness include:
Reduced attention span
Trouble learning new information
Need some tips for a good night’s sleep? Encourage your parent to try:
Sticking to a consistent sleep schedule
Avoiding heavy food before bed
Limiting alcohol and stimulants
Getting regular activity during the day
Have a purpose
Cultivating a sense of purpose in life is a great way to stay sharp in old age. In fact, having a goal or purpose in life is associated with a 30% reduction in dementia. Having a purpose keeps the mind engaged and enriches your parent’s life.
The actual goal doesn’t need to be saving the world. It just needs to be meaningful to the individual. This could include caring for grandchildren, a favorite hobby, a pet, or volunteering.
Volunteering is a popular activity for seniors as it strongly benefits both the person volunteering and the recipient. For example, 60% of Parentis Foundation volunteers reported that tutoring young children in reading also improved their own mental health.
Parentis Health is here to help
Parentis Health is committed to helping you help your parent stay healthy in both mind and body. We offer services such as home caregivers, home health, and residential living to support your parent as they age.
Additionally, the Parentis Foundation offers training for older adults to become volunteer reading tutors for young children. This significantly improves the literacy skills of children at risk while simultaneously providing meaningful opportunities for seniors in Orange County.
Reach out to us today. We can help you and your parent make a plan for how to stay sharp in old age.