Elderly Parents Mind and Brain Stimulation: No Joke for Seniors
We’ve all heard that it’s best to keep the elderly parents mind stimulated and engaged as we grow older, but few of us understand why.
Research and studies have proven that aging individuals who don’t stimulate their minds regularly may be more at risk for diseases such as various forms of dementia or Alzheimer’s. The aging brain is no less capable of learning new things that a younger brain, which is good news for today’s seniors.
We’re not just talking about routine mental tasks such as engaging in crossword puzzles or math games (though those are good – to a point). Mental stimulation also involves non-routine activities – things that constantly surprise the brain and keep it processing new information.
According to Pulitzer Prize winning science writer Ronald Kotulak, “The brain craves positive training, education, and experience throughout the life span.” How can we ensure such positive experiences? Caregivers of elderly parents should take the time and make the effort to constantly provide new ideas and suggestions for aging parents to help keep those brain cells working.
Again according to Kotulak, “Mental training in old age can boost intellectual power, help maintain mental functions like problem solving and reverse memory decline.”
Studies of large groups of individuals between the ages of 70 and 80 have determined that both physical and mental factors determine which elders hang onto their intellect longer than others.
The key factor? Stimulation! Learning new things. Experiencing new things. Trying new things. Think of it as mental exercise for the brain and mind.
How do you constantly challenge mental stimulation? Caregivers of elderly parents must move beyond the norm. It’s not enough to do a crossword puzzle every night, or to walk around the same block time after time.
Take your elderly parent to the zoo one week. The next, take him or her on a short road trip to the mountains or the ocean for the day. Keep the senses working – all of them – engage smells, sights, sounds and encourage them to touch and feel what’s around them. (By the way, this is good stimulation for caregivers also, so practice what your preach).
Encourage your parent to take part in group discussions – anything goes. Talk about books, memories, politics - anything as long as it’s stimulating and exciting. Even if your elderly parent doesn’t participate in discussions, he or she will enjoy social engagement, and who knows – he or she may just jump in with an opinion in the near future.
If your parent likes to play games of the mind or brain, encourage something more stimulating than bridge or chess. Try games like Trivial Pursuit or Charades. Find games and activities that encourage laughter and stimulate thought processes. Most importantly, play these brain games with your parents. Take an active interest and part in helping your parent find meaningful and interesting activities and hobbies.
Learn a new language with your Mom or Dad. As him or her to help tutor your child in math or history. Break out of those normal and rather humdrum routines that you’ve all fallen into.
Here are some ideas to get your ideas flowing:
No matter what you decide to do, keep things lively and entertaining.
This does not mean that you must over-stimulate your Mom or Dad, but pace things according to his or her abilities. Start with the things you know your elderly parents enjoyed in the past.
Expand on hobbies and interests and find things that will engage their body, mind and spirit.
“Keep those mental fires burning”, suggests the Director of the Gerontology Center at Pennsylvania State University. The bottom line: Use it or Lose It.