AARP AARP States Utah Health & Wellbeing

Five Ways to Help Stay Sharp and Mentally Fit

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Don Wilhelmsen

By Alana Tompkins, Co-Founder of Senior Sleuths, an immersive mystery-solving subscription experience designed for older adults.

Every 65 seconds, someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in the United States. 65 seconds … a unit of time that didn’t mean anything to me, until my father became part of the statistic.

For six years, I watched his memories fade, like sand slipping through his fingers. I wished more than anything I could help engage his brain, to find what he lost.

Studies have found older adults need brain-building activities to challenge their minds and stay mentally fit. These types of activities boost cognitive abilities and help sharpen the mind.

While we may not have a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there are a few ways we can face the challenge head on, right from the comfort of your own home.

Puzzles & Problem Solving
There’s no better way to enhance your logic and reasoning then testing your brain. Puzzle activities help strengthen selective attention and processing speed, allowing you to focus on a specific image, clue or activity.

Utilize a variety of types of puzzles as brain building activities. Crossword puzzles, cyphers and codes are all great for exercising logic. Jigsaw puzzles give you visual stimulation. Anagrams build focus and concentration.

Immersive Storytelling
We often talk about the importance of storytelling and reading in young children. This importance does not fade as we age. Stories allow us to explore new worlds, learn about complex ideas and process experiences.

When was the last time you let your imagination run free? Make up a story, complete with characters and scenes. Utilize past world events as the background for your creative exploration. Draw images, share photos and incorporate your own personal effects to give the story an authentic flare.

Focusing on the details can promote sustained attention. Personal effects, drawings and photos not only create a feeling of nostalgia, but also utilize creative juices and visual processing.

Journaling
Journaling allows you to observe your world from an outside perspective and reflect on what you’ve learned.

Consider journaling about:

● Conversations you had throughout the day
● Sites, sounds and tastes you experienced
● World events
● People you interacted with

Journaling flexes your working memory and information retention, as well as your ability to pay attention to detail.

Group Interaction
Interaction with others allows you to share ideas, find common experiences and work toward similar goals. Plus, it helps you think creatively and incorporate different perspectives.

Try doing a crossword or a jigsaw puzzle as a group. Go on a scavenger hunt, utilizing familiar landmarks and destinations to help you learn more about your friends and family. Play eye spy in old family pictures and look for things you’ve never noticed before. Then tell the story behind those photos.

You’ll not only be sharpening your mental prowess, but you’ll bond with those around you.

Repetition
The saying is true: practice makes perfect. The more you engage in brain activities, the more you can boost your cognitive reasoning and sharpen your mind.

Incorporate brain activities and engagement into your daily, weekly and even monthly routine. Set aside five minutes a day to journal. Once a week, set up a time to do a puzzle with a group of friends. Invite your grandchildren over and create fabulous stories about far away worlds. The more you exercise your brain, the more you’ll notice results, both mentally and physically.

There isn't yet a cure for Alzheimer's Disease, but staying sharp as long as possible will help improve the quality of your life and keep you engaged with friends and family.

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