When we were online the other day, we came across a list of everyday tasks that help promote better brain health (You can find the full list here at Posit Science).
That got us thinking about our own brain health tips for seniors.
We’ve suggested technology, exercises, and lifestyle changes that promote good brain function, but we haven’t really given any advice on how you can integrate brain fitness into the everyday parts of your senior life.
Inspired by the brain experts at PositScience, we’ve come up with a list of five things older adults can do (and maybe already do) to make brain fitness a seamless part of everyday senior life.
1. Eat dark chocolate.
We’ve talked before about how diet affects senior wellness. This is probably one of the few times we’ll ever recommend a sweet, but dark chocolate has so many healthy benefits that we couldn’t leave it out. But make sure you stick to the darkest chocolate you can find. The less sugar and other additives, the more effective this little treat can be.
In addition to giving you a punch of flavanols (antioxidants that promote cognition) eating chocolate helps stimulate your learning and memory centers.
Our diabetic friends may find this difficult. Luckily, the same brain-boosting compound in dark chocolate can also be found in a lot of berries (dark purple berries are usually the best). Instead of eating a square of chocolate every day, have a handful or blueberries or blackberries.
2. Play memory games.
There are plenty of games out there that are designed to stimulate memory and recall, which engages the brain on all levels, but you can make up your own too!
Leave your deck of cards out after your Bridge game—any deck that has multiples will do, really—and play a modified version of Memory.
Pull out a handful of pairs to lay face down on the table. Now mix them all up, being careful not to let any flip over. Straighten out the cards into rows and turn over two cards. Memorize them and remember their place. Turn them back over. Continue to turn cards over two at a time, trying to match up each pair.
3. Switch things up.
Try doing some of your daily tasks and chores, like brushing your teeth or combing your hair, with your non-dominant hand.
Learning a new skill, or relearning an old skill in a new way, helps to build new connections in your brain. The more complex the task, the more concentration it requires, which means that more neurons are engaged to accomplish it.
4. Learn to recite a poem or sing a song from memory.
The action of remembering, as we mentioned, engages every level of brain function. Short bursts of remembering, as when you play Memory, are effective, but tasks that stimulate memory and recall for extended periods are doubly so.
Learning by rote is especially effective when it also requires you to listen carefully as well.
Instead of finding a song in a songbook or looking it up online, try transcribing the lyrics as you listen. Not only will this stimulate recall and help you develop better listening skills, but it will aid in understanding and thinking, too. Close focus, like you need to reconstruct a song, activates neurotransmitters that allows your brain to be adaptable to the changes in senior life.
5. Ramp up your everyday activities.
Make the things you enjoy even more enjoyable by turning them into a fun challenge.
Activities like knitting or doing puzzles can help improve brain fitness, but only when they require close attention. Find a pattern that you know will be difficult or move from moderate to expert in your Sudoku. Anything that requires you to concentrate and put in more effort helps to stimulate the brain and engage the learning center.