When we are mentally and physically stimulated, we are more engaged, energized, and enthused, regardless of age. As such, brain fitness activities are becoming a standard of care in senior residential communities. Research shows these activities improve memory, increase attention span, and strengthen information-processing skills that can deteriorate with aging.
One study of more than 5,500 participants aged 65 years or older concluded that stimulating leisure activities were associated with a reduced risk of dementia. The researchers also found that older adults who were cognitively inactive were 2.6 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those who often participated in mentally stimulating activities.
Benefits of Brain Fitness Activities
Mental and physical stimulation are both important to overall brain fitness. Age-appropriate aerobic exercise improves the heart, preserves bone strength, lowers blood pressure, and relieves depression and anxiety. Likewise, it’s important for you to evaluate what kind of brain fitness activities are available at any senior care community you are considering for yourself or a loved one. Activities like these will build and maintain brain fitness, which will improve overall quality of life.
1. Jigsaw and crossword puzzles
Puzzles are one of the most prevalent and accessible brain fitness activities that activate memory and sharpen logic skills. Experts say that the best way to exercise your mind with a jigsaw puzzle is to do it blind. This means not referring back to the picture on the box while trying to put the puzzle together. Jigsaw puzzles, sudoku, and crossword puzzles are quick exercises that can be incorporated into any daily routine.
2. Cards, bingo, brain teasers and trivia games
Similarly, trivia games, brain teasers, bingo, and card games are good at helping seniors remember and use strategy and knowledge for fun and friendly competition. Some senior communities develop their own trivia questions by asking residents to submit questions and answers and having someone serve as a host to ask the questions. This is a fun way to get residents interacting with each other.
3. Artistic/craft activities
Look for senior care communities that provide opportunities for painting, drawing, working with clay or putty and other activities that engage the artistic part of the brain. For memory care patients who might feel frustration when trying to express themselves, artistic activities like these can significantly improve the degree to which your loved one feels at peace.
Storytelling is another powerful group activity that helps create a sense of community and belonging among senior care residents. When someone shares a story, he or she is engaging both sides of his or her brain. Storytelling requires the fact and memory recall that employs the left side of the brain as well as the illustrative and communicative tools provided by the right side.
5. Community service
Many seniors have spent years volunteering their time and skills. A good senior residence will partner with local community groups such as scout troops, hospital groups, or other nonprofit organizations. These sorts of activities help seniors retain a sense of purpose and connectedness to the broader community.
6. Cooking classes
Another simultaneously cognitive and physical activity that seniors may enjoy is cooking. Cooking has huge benefits for a spectrum of mental health concerns, from anxiety to OCD to dementia and more. It's a goal-oriented task that results in a tangible finished product that engages the left side of the brain (with measuring and weighing and timing) as well as the right (with mixing flavors and creating new dishes).
7. Walking groups
Similarly, walking paths in a senior community are important features to prioritize. Not only does it help maintain bone strength, walking also improves balance and coordination. Walking is by far the simplest physical activity that can be done on a subjective, as-needed basis to increase blood flow and mental acuity. Many communities organize walking groups, which adds an important social element to the activity.
Yoga is a great low-impact exercise option that provides a moderate cardio workout, increases flexibility and strengthens the entire body. It also helps relieve stress, a key to improving the quality of life for seniors in care communities.
According to a 2013 study by University of Illinois, "a 20-minute session of Hatha yoga significantly improved participants' speed and accuracy on tests of working memory and inhibitory control, two measures of brain function associated with the ability to maintain focus and take in, retain and use new information."
Exercising the brain should be an everyday part of the older adult's to-do list. When seeking a senior care residential community, carefully asses what types of brain fitness activities are available. Depending on your loved one's needs and capabilities, look for specific offerings that will appeal to a wide range of interests and activity levels.
To learn more about how Senior Solutions Management has incorporated powerful brain fitness activities into the regular activity schedule, check out our community pages.