Nobody wants to see their loved ones forget who they are. It’s a very hard road to take on both the patient and their loved ones. While we can’t stop all cases of Alzheimer’s or Dementia, there are certain steps we can take to avoid going down that road.
One of the biggest steps you can take is to take care of your whole body now. We talk more about diet, supplements, and exercises that help the body avoid degeneration in this article.
We’re going to be talking about keeping your brain in high gear in this article so you know what to do to keep sharp.
Scientists have long thought that keeping your brain healthy with brain training exercises is one of the best ways to know your state of mind. It keeps your mind working well, forming new neuro-connections, and preserving older connections.
It also gives you a chance to notice if something is going on. If your daily puzzle becomes challenging, you will know to get checked out. From there, you can work with your doctor to do the medications and supplements that can slow and even stop the damage.
They are also lots of fun. Manufacturers have become more inventive with ways to train your brain in the past couple of years. As you play with your brain, it becomes much more fun! We recommend seeking out various programs and change them as you become bored. Many of the programs are designed to be adaptive and help you keep interested for a long time.
Now, if you can’t get some of these apps or programs, there is still one very old school way of keeping your brain fitness: read, read, and read some more. Your local library has hundreds and thousands of books and they are all free. Just stop in and pick up a few books and read a bit every day. This helps keep your brain active. Plus, you will learn so many new things!
How to Exercise Your Brain
It’s not so much that you exercise your brain, but that you do the right types of brain enhancements. There isn’t a brain gym to go to, so you need to be proactive in your fight against dementia.
First, you need to know where your gaps are. If numbers are a problem (like me), you want to focus on number exercises to overcome that problem. It uses more of your brain and keeps you sharper.
Then, you need to work on memory and building strong connections. Memory brain exercises are one of the best tools and there are hundreds of apps and programs out there. We’re just going to cover some of them.
Your level of mental fitness is more determined on how well you do them. These aren’t just some mind exercises you can do once and be done. They need to be done every day in order to keep you sharp and healthy.
Top 15 Exercises that are Fun for the Brain
There is no one single exercise that will keep your brain sharp. You need to have a comprehensive program that exercises your body and your mind. What good is being able to remember names and faces if you can’t remember why you know these people. Or what good is a list if there is no one you remember.
Many of these suggestions are based around incorporating fun and enjoyable activities into your life that stimulate you and keep you going. None of them stand on their own.
Pick which ones you like and start having fun! It helps your brain and your emotional health.
Really, any kind of word or number puzzles work here. The point is to continuously stimulate the brain and keep your recall abilities high. By rotating through the different activities, you’ll stimulate different areas of the brain. This, in turn, helps keep the nerves functioning and healthy.
The puzzles target several sections of the brain. The first is recall. In nearly all puzzles, people need to discover and remember lots of information. In larger puzzles, the information can span days, forcing the player to create long-term memories.
The puzzles also stimulate reasoning and problem solving functions. These are often the first parts of the brain to be damaged in dementia. Encouraging these parts of the brain encourage healthy nerves.
Attend Lectures & Classes
You are never too old to learn something new. The oldest graduate from college is a 99 year old woman. The average life expectancy is only 84. If she can do it, so can you.
You don’t need to pay for college to learn. Most classes will allow older adults to attend lectures and classes for free as part of community outreach. Some professors will even treat you as a full student, complete with homework, tests, and grading. But, don’t worry, most just let you listen in and learn as you choose.
The ability to learn is one of the markers for a healthy brain. As you continue to learn, your brain stays healthy. It maintains current neural connections and forms new ones. The ability to form long-term memory improves, which can help ward off dementia.
If you are like me and are required to attend many lectures and classes, reading books is a low stress way to keep sharp. Researchers found that less than 50% of the population will read a book after graduating college or high school. Of those, only 25% will finish a book. That means only about 12% of the population will finish a book this year.
No wonder TV is at an all-time high.
These same researchers found brain activity in toddlers, children, teens, young adults, middle aged adults, and elderly directly correlate to TV viewing. They found the more TV watched, the lower the brain function and the increased chances of dementia. TV really is dumbing you down.
While no formal study has been done on reading, side notes of several research papers found 30 minutes to 1 hour of reading per day is enough to throw off readings for dementia. A Rush University Medical Center study found lifelong readers had significantly less damage in their brains than non-readers, although they did not quantify ‘significantly’.
It doesn’t matter what you read as long as it stimulates the brain. Books can be about history, religion, fantasy, or even gardening.
One Presbyterian Church in PA began an outreach to help mentally disabled children and the elderly. They paired one disabled child with one elderly person with dementia. They were given books to read to each other. While no accurate measurements were conducted, aids and nurses noted behavior, memory function, and recall improved in all the participants. Reading works wonders!
Play with Children
Children have rich and vivid imaginations, which are directly linked to memories. By playing with children, you are part of their world. And this world is filled with unusual details you need to remember.
But, more importantly, doctors have noted that when an adult plays with a child, their levels of stress drastically decrease. Blood pressure, cortisol, heart rate, and perceived levels of stress are all decreased.
Doctors even suspect the balance of serotonin returns to better state. Research has been done on the depressed and it was found that playing with children helps reduce the markers for depression.
By increasing good moods, you help preserve your brain and its higher functions.
There is new research and speculation that Alzheimer’s and dementia are really just Type 3 Diabetes. In other words, it’s caused by eating too much sugar.
Exercising is a great way to keep your body healthy and reduce those sugars. Research has long shown that people who exercise daily are healthier, eat healthier foods, and retain their health and mental well-being far longer than those who don’t.
Many assisted living and nursing homes have daily exercise classes for the residents. For these businesses, the benefits of exercise far outweigh the costs.
Exercise does not directly work on the brain. It works on the hormones, blood oxygen levels, and nutrient flows around the body. With better control of the whole body, the brain has higher levels of nutrients, oxygen, and blood. And it has reduced sugars, which is beneficial for everyone.
This is the one thing on the list proven to help improve mood and brain function, but no one can figure out why. People feel and do better when they garden.
What researchers are suspecting is a combination of touching the earth, the probiotics in the soil, the exposure to natural light, and the satisfaction of seeing living things grow and thrive work together to improve the whole body.
Earthing, or touching the ground with bare feet and body lowers the residual static in the body, rebalancing the electrolyte and natural charge of the body.
The soil contains over 1,500 different healthy bacteria that inoculate our skin and help prevent illnesses and diseases. Regional variations work better for locals. Probiotics have over 1,000 different research papers to show the health benefits.
Vitamin D has been long used as a treatment for dementia. We produce vitamin D in our skin when we are exposed to sunlight and it is the only vitamin we use at 100%. For most people, it only takes 10-15 of sun exposure to produce a day’s worth of vitamin D.
This is an app for your smart phone. Free to download and play, this app has a continuously updating set of scientific games and cognitive challenges designed to improve memory and stimulate your brain. The biggest part of these games is that they are mostly focused on getting you to pay attention to fine detail, a skill lost in dementia.
Several websites recommend this app, including ones for children with ADHD. The games help strengthen the ability to pay attention to the task at hand. This helps your brain filter out unnecessary information and distractions.
This app is designed for people with Alzheimer’s and therefore isn’t just a collection of games. Don’t worry, Clevermind does have plenty of games and activities to help retain memory, but this app goes so far beyond that.
It also has sections to help organize and record social functions, medications, doctors information, and food information. This app actually helps you remember to eat properly when you are supposed to eat.
It is designed to be easy to use, especially for people with declining eyesight. It also has a virtual assistant some people have equated with Siri (from Apple).
Brain Trainer App
There are two versions of this app: free and paid. We recommend getting the paid app * because it cuts down on the distractions and has better features.
This group of games is designed to help train your brain. There are language and math games, speedy shape games and other brain teasers like Sudoku. There are functions that allow you to specialize your needs to match what is going on in your life, be it recall, a speed of thinking or memory. It also reminds you to play every day, so it’s easier to get in the habit.
This is a new game that is self-described as the total brain fitness program. There are over 100 different brain exercises that are focused on attention and concentration. Studies have shown that these types of games are important to help prevent Dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Music soothes and tames. It’s a well-researched saying that listening to Mozart makes babies smarter. Musicians, on the whole, have a lower risk of dementia than the rest of the population.
Music is math, art, science, memory games, dexterity, exercise, counting, breath control, listening, feeling, and so much more. Research is just starting to be done on using music therapy to help people combat dementia.
What researchers really do know is that musician’s brains are different. The connections between long-term and short term memory are closer than average. The ability to recall chunks of data is higher.
Students in school who play music are about 20 points higher in IQ. Babies who listen to classical music read 1-2 years earlier.
While research is lacking to show that listening to music benefits people, playing is different. Over 90% of musicians who have dementia (even so, a small number) still are able to play their instruments and have average recall of event surrounding performances and rehearsals. They will remember their band friends more than non-band family.
Of course, the type matters. The only types of music that show benefit are classical, ethnic, and jazz. Rock, country, blue grass, blues, Christian, pop, and New Age do not show a benefit or a detriment. Rock, punk, rap, R&B, alternative, hip hop and heavy metal music genres actually are shown to make people dumber and increase brain damage.
Learn a New Style of Cooking
Just like learning something new, a new style of cooking can help your brain. There are several ways this works.
First, you need to learn the style. Learning anything benefits you. On top of just the skill set, you will often learn about the culture, foods, and region, and this could stimulate you to learn more. Curiosity is a good thing.
Second, you start to form new associations with food. Many new ethnic dishes use spices in a new way. You begin to learn and anticipate the way things will taste based on recall of past experiences.
Finally, the wait to taste allows you to dream and fantasize. In dementia sufferers, this ability fades quickly. Stimulating this ability helps ward off problems.
And don’t forget the enjoyment of eating a new dish. Or the disgust on not liking it at all. Either way, you get an emotional rush that increases the serotonin in your system. As we said earlier, when your serotonin is well-balanced, your brain is healthy.
Used for over 2,000 years, yoga has all the same benefits of exercise, but is often much gentler on the body. When combined with meditation, as yoga originally was, it works wonders.
Meditation (or prayer) has been recently shown to be beneficial for many physical ailments. It is able to decrease stress, blood pressure, pain, inflammation, and increase healing.
While not fully understood yet, research shows that the meditating brain is different than the awake brain. There is increased healing, transition between short-term and long-term memory happening near instantaneously, and alternative pathways for different processes forming.
In a novel program, John Hopkins University Hospital attempted to teach stroke patients meditation to help relieve the stress of not having a functioning side of their body. While the program succeeded, a side effect was a noticeable increase in use of the damaged side of the body much faster than average. They suspected during meditation, the brain literally rewired itself to be able to use the parts of the body it was missing.
Practice Small Detail Work & Hand-Eye Coordination
Knitting, sewing, crocheting and needlework are all ways to keep the brain functioning. The transition between details and large picture help the brain retain information.
The process of creating a new piece of artwork is often related to storytelling. It is believed that we linked this detail work, older age, and storytelling far back in our histories to maximize our time and recall ability.
Today, the ability for some people to do both the detail work and remember information is remarkable.
It starts early. Working on these types of projects while listening to stories helps connect the activity to the story. Then, as work is recalled, so is the story.
Learn a Foreign Language
The average American only learns 15 words of another language and never completely learns their own. The average European learns 2-3 languages, but never completely learns their own (they combine too many grammar rules).
However, learning another language stimulates all parts of the brain and helps you understand your language and the other language. The exposure to culture and different ways to think is the key to developing the brain.
When you learn another language, your brain needs to rewrite the language center of your brain. People fluent in more than one language actually develop mirror centers of the brain and are able to switch between them at will. Those of us who are still learning a language form dual pathways for the learn words and grammar rules.
Basically, learning another language allows you to form double the speech pathways. You’ll never run out of something to say!
The key to keeping your brain healthy is to keep your body healthy and mind active. You need to do more than average to keep function. This means reading books, learning new information, and being active.
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