As people age, they settle into well-worn routines. While humans are creatures of habit and like to stick to what they know, research indicates that people who seek out novel experiences and new challenges may stave off diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and similar losses in brain function.
According to the Bright Focus Foundation, social engagement and “building brain reserves” are key tools in the dementia-prevention toolbox. In other words, adults who focus on stretching themselves mentally throughout life have a better chance of staying sharp in old age. While scientists are unclear on exactly how this mental exercise effects change, the results are clear: People who consistently embrace novelty have a lower chance of developing diseases that reduce mental faculties.
STAY ACTIVE AND TRY SOMETHING NEW
Ideas for seniors who embrace the notion of engaging in new activities include simple pastimes such as listening to the radio and reading the newspaper, playing puzzle games or going to the museum, says the National Institute on Aging (NIA). Activities that test memory are also helpful, as are challenges like playing a new video game or doing difficult crossword puzzles.
Don’t write off elderly people who already show signs of dementia, either. If necessary, consider providing a free evaluation to residents to determine where their interests lie and what skills they may still be able to pick up.
Social engagement also provides many of the same brain-bolstering effects, the NIA adds. If residents you work with show a proclivity toward hanging out with peers, facilitate group activities that encourage skills acquisition, such as gardening and photography classes, or group puzzles or sightseeing tours.
While the benefits of brain exercise increase the younger you start, it is never too late to begin. Introducing the elders you know to new experiences and helping them to learn and engage could add years to their mental lives.