Our society tends to devalue older adults, which can make the process of aging feel scary. According to the CDC, 60% of people surveyed about aging related fears were afraid of memory loss. Additionally, people were twice as afraid of cognitive decline as they were of physical limitations. It’s understandable. We want to stay sharp, functional, and quick-witted. We want to retain our memories and be as independent as possible. And while slight cognitive changes are normal, there are many simple ways to improve cognitive health for older adults. Keep reading to learn more.
1. Stick to a Workout Routine
Exercise (especially cardio) may help strengthen the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory. It also helps the brain use energy more efficiently and helps maintain neural connections (i.e., the brain’s information highways). Good cardio exercises include:
- Gym machines like the elliptical, stair climber, treadmill, etc.
2. Stay Mentally Active
Challenging our brain may improve thinking and memory. Bonus, if the activity is personally significant, we feel happier and more fulfilled. Mentally stimulating activities may include:
- Reading books
- Doing puzzles
- Solving riddles
- Playing games like chess, cards, video games, etc.
- Learning to play an instrument
- Doing sudoku or crosswords
- Practicing meditation
- Doing engaging hobbies
3. Get Socially Involved
Social isolation can have negative consequences on our health outcomes. Maintaining meaningful connections to people and community can improve our thinking abilities, as well as prevent loneliness. Some ways to get socially involved include:
- Scheduling recurring phone calls with loved ones
- Meeting friends for coffee
- Joining a hobby club
- Joining a group of other older adults looking to socialize
- Joining a sports team
- Texting or emailing friends and family to check in
- Joining a faith-based or spiritual community
4. Reduce Stress
As long as we’re alive, stress is inevitable (it can even be a good thing). But it’s important to manage it, so that it doesn’t overwhelm us. Frequent stress can limit our reasoning abilities and memory retention. Stress reduction methods will vary depending on the person, but the below are general guidelines for stress management:
- Develop healthy coping mechanisms
- Speak to a mental health professional
- Seek support from friends and family
- Practice gratitude
- Practice relaxation techniques
- Prioritize essential to-do’s and eliminate the rest
5. Get Enough Sleep
As we age, we may struggle to get the sleep we need. This may be for many reasons, like changing brain activity, chronic pain, frequent nighttime urination (known as nocturia), sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, etc. Sleep helps our brain perform well during the day. Without it, our short-term cognitive abilities may become impaired. Inadequate sleep might also contribute to dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease in the long-term. To ensure we get enough sleep, we can:
- Seek medical treatment for underlying conditions that may be impacting sleep
- Go to sleep at a set time each night
- Practice a bedtime routine, to prepare our mind and body for sleep
- Avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bed
- Avoiding screen time an hour before bed, as the blue light from our devices suppresses melatonin, a hormone responsible for regulating sleep.
With aging, some subtle cognitive shifts are normal. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to stay sharp. With knowledge, effort, and consistency we can continue to thrive throughout later life.