Healthy ageing is about developing and maintaining the functional abilities that enable wellbeing in older age. It might involve maintaining flexibility, strength and balance and enjoying social activities. It should also involve maintaining your brain.
7 Ways You Can Boost Brain Health
Your amazing brain
We’ve learned more about the human brain in the last decade than in all previous centuries thanks to new research techniques and exciting developments in neurological and behavioural science.
Your brain is the most complex part of your body. It interprets information from your five senses, initiates movement, regulates your emotions and behaviour and governs your intelligence. Its fast reflexes enable you to excel at tennis or leap away from danger. It equips you to read great literature or the latest celebrity gossip, to solve complex equations or work out your share of the bill, to remember past events, learn from experience and plan ahead for the future.
Your brain never stops working. While you sleep, it maintains your heartbeat, breathing and temperature while hopefully serving up a pleasant dream or two as well. It’s a truly amazing organ.
What is brain health?
We now know more than ever before about how to protect your brain’s health. And that’s vitally important since your brain is crucial to every aspect of your life.
When we talk about brain health, we’re looking at several aspects of brain function including:
- Cognitive health – your ability to think, learn and remember
- Motor function – making and controlling movements and balance
- Emotional function – your ability to interpret and respond to feelings
- Tactile function – your ability to feel and respond to touch sensations like pressure, pain and temperature.
What influences brain health?
Many, many things influence your brain’s health over your lifetime including:
- Age-related changes
- Damage from a stroke or an injury
- Depression or other mood disorders
- Substance abuse
- Alzheimer’s disease.
Some of these factors are beyond your control but others are influenced by lifestyle, meaning that healthy habits can help to create a healthy brain.
So, what things can you do to improve brain function, memory and concentration? Here are 7 tips.
Brain exercises for seniors
1. Get your hearing checked
That might seem a surprising place to start – you were probably expecting a tip like ‘do more crossword puzzles’!
But protecting your hearing is possibly the most important thing you can do to reduce the risk of dementia.
In a landmark study that tracked over 600 adults for nearly 12 years, researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that:
- Mild hearing loss doubled the risk of dementia
- Moderate hearing loss tripled the risk of dementia
- People with severe hearing loss were 5 times more likely to develop dementia.
Hearing stimulates your brain. When that stimulation disappears due to hearing loss, there’s a faster rate of brain atrophy (shrinkage). It also tends to weaken your social connections and make you more isolated – another risk factor for dementia.
Hearing loss can creep up on you gradually and many people resist getting it checked out. In fact many people wait about 10 years to get their hearing tested, ignoring or compensating for their hearing loss without realising that they’re making their brain work harder and harder to do that.
It’s understandable – many of us still associate hearing loss with getting older and still envisage the old, clunky devices our own grandparents wore. Today’s digital hearing aids are impressively small devices that can be controlled from your smartphone so discreetly that people may not even notice you’re wearing them.
So, get your hearing tested. If you’re not quite ready to see a qualified audiologist, then try this online hearing test.
2. Keep your mind active
Now for the crossword puzzles! Keeping your mind active may benefit your brain. Research shows that cognitive training improves cognitive performance in the area you’ve been focussing on, though there’s not enough evidence yet to know whether it prevents or delays dementia.
Mentally stimulating activities could include:
- Tasks that give you a sense of purpose like volunteering or caring for grandchildren
- Learning new skills, which may improve your thinking ability
- Socially engaging pastimes like joining a choir or a Zumba class.
3. Manage stress
There’s a well-documented link between stressful life events and cognitive decline. To put it simply, stress ages your brain.
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin found that the more stress a person lived with over the course of their life, the more likely they were to experience cognitive difficulties in later life.
Some degree of stress will always be part of life. At some point, we’re all likely to move house, change jobs or experience the loss of a loved one. But many of us live in long-term stress due to overwork, unemployment, caring responsibilities or unhealthy relationships.
Sometimes you can’t change the situation but you do need to manage your response to it. You can reduce the experience of stress through physical activity, deep breathing exercises, mindfulness and sleep.
4. Social networks
Research shows that dementia risk is increased by poor social engagement, including living alone, having a limited social network, infrequent social content and inadequate social support.
COVID-19 has certainly made it harder to maintain an active social life but it is possible. If you live in an area with very few restrictions, then make the most of the opportunity to see family and friends, to join social clubs and to enjoy days out with others.
If COVID restrictions mean your favourite clubs are cancelled, then try to maintain relationships through phone calls, Facetime or online communities.
Your body is 60% water. Your brain needs water to make hormones and neurotransmitters.
Water is also needed to:
- Build and nourish cells
- Regulate your body temperature
- Flush out waste through urination
- Act as a shock absorber for your brain and spinal cord
- Make saliva
- Lubricate joints.
Dehydration affects your whole body, including your brain. Dehydration negatively affects your coordination, attention, and ability to solve complex problems.
As you get older, you’re more susceptible to dehydration due to a decreased sense of thirst, the effects of medications or deliberately drinking less to avoid needing the toilet during the night.
To reduce the risk of dehydration, drink regularly throughout the day. Drink a glass of water whenever you take your tablets, whenever you eat and have one next to you when you’re reading or watching TV.
6. Lower alcohol intake
Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can damage the brain. Alcohol also changes your ability to absorb and use thiamine (vitamin B1), a key micronutrient.
If you drink alcohol, try to stick within the National Health and Medical Research Council’s guidelines of no more than 10 standard drinks per week and no more than 4 standard drinks on any one day.
If you’d like help to cut down your drinking, then get the Try Dry app from Alcohol Change UK.
7. Care for your body
High blood pressure, high blood glucose and high cholesterol all increase your risk of developing dementia.
Ask your GP for a blood test to check these factors. If your levels are high, your GP can prescribe medications or lifestyle changes to get your blood pressure, glucose or cholesterol back into a normal range.
A healthy lifestyle helps here too. Regular physical activity and a healthy diet protect your body and your brain.
How can Focused Health Care help?
Focused Health Care provides in-home care to help you maintain your independence and support your wellbeing.
We can support your brain health by supporting your diet and water intake, managing medications and increasing your social engagement. If you’d like to know more, please contact us.
All information is general in nature.