How Aging Adults Can Stay Mentally Sharp: 15 Tips

Certified Care Manager, Aging Life Care Professional, and National Master Guardian Emeritus

Published on:

Dementia affects more than 5 million Americans—and Alzheimer’s is among the most common causes, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. There are many characteristics that can define dementia, but chief among them are memory loss, forgetfulness, difficulty with keeping track of time, and becoming lost. Sadly, there is no current treatment or cure for dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. 

Jump ahead to these sections:

Scientists continue to conduct research and develop drug treatments, but there is also an interest in lifestyle habits and changes that might affect dementia. The National Institutes of Health reports that a study of people who adhered to healthy lifestyle habits had a 60 percent lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. One of those behaviors was cognitive activities. But mental activities alone without the other healthy behaviors like physical activity, a healthy diet, moderate alcohol consumption, and no smoking haven’t led conclusively to the same outcomes. 

The message is that staying mentally sharp has no downsides and probably has lots of benefits. Incorporating mental sharpness with other retirement hobbies and a healthy lifestyle can help someone improve their memory. Below are some ways to engage in activities that can help maintain a social network and keep your brain stimulated. 

Things Aging Adults Can Do Alone to Stay Mentally Sharp

There is some evidence that staying mentally sharp does improve memory. The availability of things aging adults can do alone to stay mentally sharp is practically infinite. Knowing how to access the internet through a computer, smartphone or tablet opens up possibilities. Although you may be alone, you can interact with other people while engaging in many of these activities. 

The crucial thing to remember about these activities is that variety is the key to maximizing their effectiveness. Playing solitaire over and over again won’t stimulate your brain enough for improvement. Mixing it up without choosing something that will frustrate you is the best path to success. Try new things to keep yourself mentally sharp.

1. Word games

The great thing about games is that you can choose easy, difficult, or graduating levels. The possibilities are almost endless. We will look at a few of the more popular ones but explore on your own to find what resonates with you.

Words with Friends is available on your phone or computer, and you can play with other people or against “the house.” Words with Friends is basically the online version of Scrabble. Word search games and word connect options are very popular. Most of these are free, but if you want to play more than the free options give you, there can be a cost.

2. Brain games

Luminosity is one of the oldest and most established brain games. Others like Elevate, Brain Age Concentration, Happy Neuron, and lots of others use a combination of word recognition, sentence structure, content, and math to challenge every ability. You can start at a lower level and proceed at your own rate. Sudoku is a favorite brain game that uses memory, concentration, and logic.

3. Puzzles

Crossword puzzles are the classic word game that many people still do with paper and pen in their local newspaper or magazines. Now we have online crosswords for every ability. Jigsaw puzzles are another solitary game that taps into the left and right sides of the brain. Many people report that jigsaw puzzles are relaxing and help them cope with anxiety. One of the more popular concepts is to take a photograph and have it made into a jigsaw puzzle.

4. Video games

Video games aren’t just for young people anymore. Wii Sports, Super Mario Bros., World of Warcraft, Animal Crossing, and Minecraft are just a few of the games that older adults can enjoy playing. Most exercise your brain, but some exercise your body as well. Reflexes, planning, attention, and visuospatial skills are all employed in video games. 

5. Yoga and other exercises

Recent research shows that short bursts of activity improve memory in older adults.

Doing any kind of exercise alone should be done with great care. Consult with your health care provider before starting any type of movement. Online classes have increased during the pandemic, and there are options for every person regardless of ability.

For older adults who can’t do vigorous activity, US News and World Report writes about a study that shows “those who practiced yoga retained or even increased the size of their hippocampus.” The hippocampus is the organ in the brain responsible for memory and cognition. Beginner yoga books and online videos are an excellent way to start.

6. Online college classes

The availability of online courses for older adults is mind-boggling, and many of them are free. Colleges and universities often refer to these classes under the title of Lifelong Learning. You can learn a language, write, travel virtually, taste wine, learn how to cook different foods, and loads of other options.

7. Senior chat rooms

Senior chat rooms can be a great way to combat isolation and loneliness in aging adults. But you will want to choose carefully to find a group that you are compatible with. Once you find yourself in a comfortable group, don’t be afraid to initiate a conversation that can lead to intellectually and challenging topics.

8. Manage stress

You may not think of this as a factor in staying mentally sharp, but it is. Stress has lots of variables, and one of them is general overall health. According to the Mayo Clinic, “stress that's left unchecked can contribute to many health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.” Chronic medical diseases affect your mental sharpness. 

Managing stress alone is very achievable. First, focus on your health by getting enough sleep, eating well, and staying connected to other people remotely if necessary. More older adults are learning to meditate as a way to de-stress. Meditation instruction is available online or on your smartphone.  Listening to music is another great way to lift your spirits and calm the nerves. 

9. Read

Reading keeps you mentally sharp, especially if you venture into more unfamiliar topics. Novels, online medical journals, opinion pieces, travel journals are all examples of reading material you may not have thought of. If you have a sight impairment, try audiobooks which are available from the library downloaded directly onto your phone.

ยป MORE: Loss is hard. Get help with a post-death planning checklist.

 

Things Aging Adults Can Do With Others to Stay Mentally Sharp

It’s hard to replace the joy and connection that occurs being with other people. Even if you are more of an introvert, being with others will lift your mood and help you stay mentally sharp. If you are in assisted living, you have ready-made opportunities for social engagement. It is highly recommended that you participate when you can, because you have much to gain and little to lose.

10. Card games

Group card games stimulate the mind, encourage conversation, and usually have some laughter involved. Some of the more common ones are bridge, pinochle, hearts, Uno, and gin rummy. 

11. Exercise classes

We have discussed how valuable exercise is in keeping the brain sharp. Group exercise classes are standard in assisted living, but Medicare insurance plans pay for some gym memberships. Contact your insurance company to find out which gyms in your area contract to offer free membership to seniors. Most gyms these days offer special yoga, tai chi, and other classes for older adults. Some seniors hire a private coach to ensure they have variety in their workouts.

12. Lectures and museums

Lectures at assisted living communities or local campuses are a terrific way to learn about something new and then talk with your friends about it later. Check the local college offerings to see what might be available. Group cultural activities are growing in popularity in senior living communities. Take full advantage if there is something, in particular, you have an interest in, let the activities director know. You probably aren’t the only one.

13. Book clubs

Book clubs are growing in popularity due in part to the pandemic. Book clubs are meeting through Zoom, and in-person groups are resuming in senior living. Having a designated book to read each month is a strong motivator, and you may read about topics that you wouldn’t have otherwise.

Ensuing discussions can be mentally stimulating and challenging. There is something about reading a book you know you will be discussing that increases engagement.

14. Dance

Dancing, whether ballroom, western, or salsa, is a total body exercise that also works the brain. Dancing involves coordination, balance, and memory. You also get the chance to partner up with lots of different people and learn all sorts of new ways to move.

15. Family

When was the last time you had an in-depth conversation with a grandchild or other family member? You may be pleasantly surprised by how mentally stimulating these conversations can be. We all tend to surround ourselves with similar people, which leads to familiar topics. Try branching out and explore other ideas.

How Aging Adults Can Stay Mentally Sharp

The world is at your fingertips, and it is never too late to try activities to keep mentally sharp. It might involve getting out of your comfort zone, but that is the idea! Try some of our tips and improve your memory and well-being. 


Sources

  1. “Combination of Healthy Lifestyle Traits May Substantially Reduce Alzheimer’s.” National Institutes of Health, 17 June 2020, www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/combination-healthy-lifestyle-traits-may-substantially-reduce-alzheimers
  2. “Facts and Figures.” Alzheimer’s Association, www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/facts-figures
  3. Panasevich, Jake. “Can Yoga Improve Memory?” US News and World Report, 17 April 2020, health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/eat-run/articles/can-yoga-improve-memory
  4. “Social Ties Could Preserve Memory, Slow Brain Aging.” Science Daily, 31 May 2018, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/05/180531084432.htm
  5. “Stress Management.” Mayo Clinic, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-symptoms/art-20050987
  6. “Two Ways to Stay Mentally Sharp.” Harvard Health Publishing, March 2015, www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/two-ways-to-stay-mentally-sharp

Icons sourced from FlatIcon.