As you get older, the brain size, cognition and vasculature changes. The brain shrinks as changes occur from molecules to morphology. Older people are also at risk for dementia, stroke, Alzheimer’s and white matter lesions, which happens with changes in levels of hormones and neurotransmitters. The question older people ask is “what can I do to keep my brain sharp as I age?”
As you get older, you may start to notice changes in your ability to remember things. You can’t recall names during conversations, you go to the kitchen and you don’t remember why you miss a doctor’s appointment because it slipped your mind. While memory lapses happens to everyone, it’s more scary for older people who fear it’s a loss of intellectual function.
Significant memory loss isn’t a natural part of ageing but happens with neurological illness, brain injury, organic disorders and other related memory issues. Recent research findings have revealed mental engaging activities that keep the brain sharp and it's not puzzles and mind games. A research led by Professor Linda Clare at the University of Exeter shows that there are no visible long-term benefits to brain games neither does it improve your thinking ability.
We’ve put together a list to help keep your brain sharper as you get older.
- Physical exercise
One of the findings of the research was that physical exercise helps to keep older brain sharp. It has the best evidence for preserving memory and mental function with ageing. Brisk walking for 30 minutes a day, learning Tai chi and playing tennis are some of the best sports to engage in.
- Challenge your brain to learn something new
Lisa Feldman Barret a Psychologist from Northeastern University advices older people to challenge themselves to learn new things regularly as a means of fine-tuning their cognitive skills. Study a new topic until you feel frustrated, tired and stymied. This advice is based on the study of “superagers”. Older people above 65 years with cognitive skills of a 25-year-old. Exerting the brain increases ease of communication and enhances cognitive skills.
- Train your body to do things differently
Teaching your body new ways to do routine tasks is part of brain health. If you like to walk slowly, start walking more briskly, sleep on the right side of the bed instead of the left, walk on curbs instead of the sidewalk. Try new food you hated when you were younger. This is an excellent way to mix things up and keep the brain engaged.
- Control high blood pressure and cholesterol problems
One of the steps recommended by a scientific study to reduce cognitive decline includes keeping blood sugar normal, managing blood pressure and controlling cholesterol. Some heart-related diseases contribute to dementia. Other steps include quit smoking, eat a healthy diet, stay active and maintain a healthy weight.
Researchers at Harvard examined conditions where people came up with creative solutions and found that a good night sleep increased their chances of solving a problem. They suggest that the sleeping brain synthesizes complex information. Hence, getting regular sleep keeps the brain sharp.
While challenging the brain is an important part of staying sharp, be careful not to overwhelm the brain with stress, as the hippocampus where memory formation occurs could be seriously affected by chronic stress. Try yoga, learn a new language, take photography classes and use life transition such as retirement to learn new mentally stimulating activities.