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Aging Brains –Keeping Your Aging Parent Mentally Sharp

Jan. 23, 2020

Q My mother has just turned 70 and is beginning to show signs forgetfulness. She is starting to forget things she used to remember like taking her car keys and being unable to remember phone numbers that used to be second nature to her. She even sometimes forgets the day of the week it is. But to her credit, she loves to read and I think this is helping her maintain her reasoning abilities. But still, I want mom to remain vital both mentally and physically. Are their specific things I should be doing that will help keep her mentally strong?

A Absolutely. But it would be a good idea for you to first have your mother be medically tested a geriatric physician. Your mom may be in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, which you will want to rule out as quickly as possible. Today, there are ways of testing for Alzheimer’s disease and the faster you can detect the disease the more treatment options may be available to you.

Knowing that your mother is an avid reader is good sign. Reading is a brain-healthy activity and strengthens overall brain function. If your mom finds it difficult to read because of vision limitations, I would advise you to have her listen to books. Today, there are literally hundreds of thousands of books in audible form. Because hearing is a different sense perception, listening to the written word rather then visualizing them will help your mom develop new neural pathways, which itself stimulates and strengthens brain activity.

Without continued mental stimulation, an aging adults brain can atrophy. For the aging parent or loved one, this can make the simplest of cognitive tasks difficult to perform. Aging brains, like aging muscles, can and do respond to mental workouts. Brains possess what is known as neural plasticity, which means the brain can actually change based on the types of input it receives from it’s environment. It is well accepted that cognitive function improves with increased brain activity. The earlier in the process you have her begin to learn new things, the healthier her brain becomes and the longer it will take before there is cognitive decline.

Brain Exercises That Can Improve Cognitive Functioning:

Neurological studies show that older people who engage in specific types of brain activities can not only increase memory and overall cognitive functioning, but also contribute to living healthier lives.

Brains, like muscles, require activity that will push elders past self-limiting beliefs. A person’s expectations play a large role in aging adults, especially if they believe that aging necessarily means living a passive and sedentary life. Studies show that what people believe, they tend to actually experience. For example, if one equates aging with loss of physical and neurological function, they will have unconsciously put this belief in motion. Self-limiting beliefs will also discourage a person from engaging in activities that improve health and reduce loss of cognitive function.

Here are a few aging adult training exercises that are believed to support a healthier brain:

If your aging parent is still able to safely drive, encourage them to take different driving routs. New environments will activate the brains neurons to develop alternate firing patterns, which actually creates new neural pathways throughout the brain.

The goal is to reduce automatic thinking that is mostly controlled at the hard-wired subconscious level, and encourage them to develop active conscious thinking. Taking different driving routs to and from the house will require different types of pattern recognition – it will require making choices -it takes the brain off autopilot and forces the conscious act of problem solving, therefore stimulating the brain and helping prevent neural atrophy.

If the aging adult is musically inclined, learning a new instrument is a great way of stimulating the brain, especially because it involves both left-brain and right-brain function. When both right and left hemispheres of the brain are engaged, the combination contributes to what is known as neural integration. A technique Albert Einstein used when he found himself stuck on a trying to solve a left brain physics problem. He would give his left-brain (logical reasoning) a rest and move on to use his right brain, which he did by playing the violin. Not a bad role model to follow. Neural pathways were being formed between the left and right hemispheres of the brain – one most effective forms of brain stimulation she can do.

You can also take up a new interest that will encourage stimulation between hand-eye coordination and overall dexterity. Your mom can try something new and fun such as knitting, drawing or putting a jigsaw puzzle together. The key is to be able to motivate your mom take-up new activities.

Nutrition For The Brain

Another way of improving function is though good nutrition.

The brain is an extremely active organ and demands a high percentage of the overall daily energy supplied by our intake of key nutrients. These nutrients support a healthy brain.

People who eat a selection of fruit, leafy vegetables fish and nuts packed with omega-3 fatty acids can improve acuity and decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Regular consumption of antioxidant-rich green tea may also enhance memory and mental alertness as you age.

These vitamins should include a regular intake of Vitamins B and D. Water is essential as well. As we age, we tend to dehydrate more so then when we are young. So it’s no surprise that consuming water with each meal and throughout the day is extremely important. Keep in mind, our bodies are mostly comprised of water.

A regular diet of wholesome foods will support brain function and ones overall health. So make sure your mom reduces sodium from her diet as much as possible. Also, stick with good fats such as olive oil, avocado, salmon, and flaxseeds.

Finally, there is one ingredient that is often overlooked when discussing what makes a brain healthy – that ingredient is happiness. Try to keep your mom as busy and as social as possible and keep you and your family’s love for her flowing.