Senior Lifestyle Guide for Preventing Memory Disorders
- Physical Exercise
- Brain Aerobics
- Nutrition and Supplements
- Sleep and Relaxation
- Additional Memory Disorder Resources
Memory loss is a big concern for seniors, as it can seriously affect their quality of life. It’s important, as a senior or the loved one of a senior, to be able to recognize the difference between age-related memory loss and the signs of a memory disorder. Age-related memory loss is typically associated with forgetting things infrequently — for example, forgetting to take your trash cans to the curb one week is a normal part of age-related memory loss. Signs of more serious memory loss can include forgetting how to perform daily tasks, like using the phone. Confusion associated with memory loss — such as not understanding how you got somewhere or forgetting who you’re talking to during conversation can be another sign of a memory disorder.
Memory disorders, like Alzheimer’s and dementia, are serious diseases that aren’t currently curable. However, there are some simple lifestyle changes that you can make to reduce your risk of developing these disorders.
Getting physically active is a huge part of maintaining your health, particularly as you age. Exercise can help you decrease the risk of other health hazards as well as increase cognitive function. In a study published by Harvard Health, it was shown that aerobic exercise boosted the size of the hippocampus, which is the region of the brain responsible for verbal memory and learning. Other regions of the brain that were found to be positively impacted by exercise included the prefrontal and medial temporal cortices, which are also responsible for thinking, memory, and decision making.
Types of Beneficial Exercise
Aerobic exercise has proven to be the most beneficial type of exercise for reducing memory loss. Aerobic exercise is defined as any movement that increases the body’s heart rate and use of oxygen. Healthy blood and oxygen flow are both huge parts of maintaining your brain’s health. In the same Harvard Health article, it was seen that engaging in regular exercise for over six months was associated with volume increases within the cognitive cortices of the brain. Here are some aerobic exercises that can be scaled to seniors’ abilities and lifestyles:
- Walking: Walking is a great aerobic exercise. Not only does it help get your heart rate up, but it can also provide opportunities to get outside and meet up with neighbors, which are both beneficial to seniors' mental health.
- Yoga: Yoga is a gentler aerobic exercise. You can start practicing yoga in your home with very little equipment. This exercise can also be scaled depending on your mobility or stamina limitations, making it a great choice for seniors.
- Cycling: Biking, either outdoors or on a stationary bike, is an excellent way to get your heart rate up and more oxygen into your system. A recumbent bicycle may be a better option for seniors, as it requires less balance and is closer to the ground.
- Swimming: Swimming can be an ideal option for seniors who have chronic joint pain, as the water will take pressure off those joints. Many community pools also offer senior discounts on memberships, which can lower the cost of this hobby.
Keeping your brain’s synapses engaged is another way you can lessen the effects of memory loss. When we age, our brain’s synapses naturally become dull. However, by taking in new stimuli, which makes your synapses fire more often, you can create new and sharp neural pathways. Brain aerobics refers less to increasing your heart rate and oxygen intake, but rather to exercises that create new neural pathways.
Reading Something New
Reading is a cognitively beneficial activity for seniors. It helps you with absorbing and understanding new information, maintaining focus, and exercises your ability to recall. Varying the types of books you read is particularly good for your brain, as it helps foster the creation of new neural pathways. Libraries are a great resource for seniors, as they offer a wide variety of books at no cost. Some libraries even have book delivery services.
Learning a New Language
Learning a new language requires a bit more commitment, however, the cognitive payoffs are well worth it. Anyone — not just seniors — can benefit from learning a second language. Not only will this increase your ability to communicate with new people, but it will also improve skills like:
- Critical thinking;
- Short-term and long-term memory;
There are several ways that you can pursue learning a new language. You can take courses at your local community college, hire a tutor, or pursue online courses. If you're looking for a lower-cost option, there are several language learning apps.
Playing or Studying a Musical Instrument
Playing a musical instrument has been connected to reduced risks of dementia and Alzheimer’s. Learning music has been linked to increasing resiliency in the brain, which can help reduce some age-related memory problems. Reading sheet music also promotes quick thinking and recall.
If you’ve ever played an instrument, picking it back up again can be a great way to keep your brain engaged. Even if you haven’t played in years, getting back into music has several cognitive and emotional health benefits. Additionally, learning a new instrument is another good way to create new neural pathways.
Games, both physical and digital, have been shown to lower stress, as well as improve cognitive function in seniors. Playing games can help recall, coordination, and fine motor skills, which can all help reduce the impact of memory disorders. Some games with cognitive benefits for seniors include:
- Video Games: Video games have a host of benefits for seniors' cognitive and emotional health. Playing video games often requires seniors to learn a new set of skills, which creates new neural pathways in the brain. Seniors can invest in video game consoles or download game apps onto their phones or tablets.
- Chess: As a strategy game, chess is an exceptional way to keep the brain engaged. It requires planning and forethought, and no two games are the same. If you’re a senior who lives alone, you can see if your local senior center has a chess set, or play chess online.
- Sudoku: Another strategy game, sudoku can help improve critical thinking skills. Puzzles like Sudoku have also been shown to improve short-term memory, making it a good practice to reduce the effects of memory loss. Sudoku is also a solo game, meaning it can be played any time, anywhere.
- Crossword Puzzles: Crosswords are another puzzle that’s been proven to increase recall and short-term memory. Crossword puzzles can also help improve focus and attention to detail.
Nutrition and Supplements
Nutrition is another way you can supplement your brain health. Seniors can be prone to deficiencies in important nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, iron, and other important vitamins and minerals. Many of these vitamins, such as iron, magnesium, and zinc are critical for brain health.
You can increase your intake of these vitamins by seeking out certain foods or supplements. Some supplements may interact negatively with certain medications or pre-existing conditions, so make sure you talk to your doctor.
Memory Boosting Foods
There are certain foods that you can add to your diet to increase your intake of brain-healthy vitamins.
- Blueberries: Blueberries are high in antioxidants, which can improve brain and memory function. They also contain high amounts of fiber and water, which are good for your digestive system.
- Turmeric: Turmeric is a spice that is a natural anti-inflammatory, but it has also been shown to improve mood and memory. You can use turmeric in soups, stews, and curries.
- Dark Chocolate: The flavonoids in dark chocolate have been shown to increase memory function. It has also been shown to improve the trail-making ability — of the ability to connect and relate events — in adults.
- Nuts: Eating nuts regularly can help improve several areas of cognition, such as recall, learning, cognition, and memory. Nuts are also high in healthy fat that is good for your brain and heart.
- Black coffee: Having black coffee in the morning has been shown to help keep the brain active. This helps increase alertness and reaction time. When paired with other brain-boosting activities, this alertness can help the brain create new neural pathways more effectively.
Beneficial Supplements to Prevent Memory Disorders
Some vitamin deficiencies can mimic symptoms of Alzheimer's. If this is the case, then you’ll want to talk to your doctor about taking a supplement. Vitamin deficiencies that can mimic memory disorders include:
- Folic acid.
If you’re experiencing Alzeheimer’s-like symptoms, talk to your doctor about getting a blood test to see if you have any of these deficiencies and if you can reverse your symptoms by starting a supplement.
Not all supplements are capsules anymore — shots and chewables can be alternative options. B12 shots can be beneficial for those who want more immediate results, while lozenges or slow-release capsules can be a gentler approach.
Sleep and Relaxation
There is an important connection between sleep and Alzheimer’s. Getting enough quality sleep is believed to help the brain rid itself of proteins that can contribute to the development of memory disorders. Adults over 65 may experience a decrease in slow-wave sleep, which is essential for brain recovery. These decreases can appear as insomnia, sleep apnea, or waking up several times in the night. While these interruptions of sleep may be attributed to normal aging, they may negatively affect your health in ways you don’t realize.
You can increase your quality of sleep by creating healthy habits, such as:
- Going to bed and waking up at the same time;
- Removing distractions from the bedroom, such as TVs and other bright screens;
- Reading or doing other stress-relieving activities before bed;
- Reducing caffeine consumption late in the day.
If you’re still having trouble getting quality sleep, talk to your doctor to see if a supplement for sleep support is right for you. Other sleep support options, such as a night guard or sleep apnea machine, can increase your ability to get quality sleep.
Additional Memory Disorder Resources
If you or your loved one is experiencing or thinks they may be experiencing a memory disorder, there are several resources available. While memory disorders aren’t currently curable, research is being funded to learn more about dementia and Alzheimer’s. In the meantime, families and those affected can find support from several different organizations:
- Alzheimer’s Foundation of America: This foundation provides educational and financial resources for caregivers and individuals with Alzheimer’s. They also offer free memory screenings for individuals who may think they have Alzheimer’s.
- Alzheimer's Association: The Alzheimer’s Association is the leading organization in Alzheimer’s research, specifically working toward finding a cure. You can volunteer your money or time to this organization through the website, and also view their current research.
- The Dementia Society: The Dementia Society is focused on bringing care and local resources to families and individuals experiencing dementia. Their website offers free cognitive screenings, as well as local resource directories.
Developing dementia or Alzheimer's is a concern among many seniors. Preventing or reducing your likelihood of these disorders can start as simply as changing your diet or playing more games. If you are concerned about your cognitive health, ask your doctor about a cognitive screening, or seek out cognitive screenings online.