Keeping the Mind Young with Brain Exercises

By May 12, 2015Aging in Place

Many people believe that loss of brain function is simply a part of aging but that may not be completely true. While some processes do slow down, regular “brain exercise” can help reduce the impact and some studies have shown that elders can activate portions of the brain that were previously inaccessible.

As a person ages, changes all over the body occur – including changes in the brain. Researchers have found that aging causes:

  • Brain shrinkage in areas important to learning, planning, and memory
  • Changes in neurons and neurotransmitters such as decreased receptors and reduced white matter (nerve coverings) in all areas including those dealing with cognition
  • Reduction in blood flow due to arterial narrowing and reduced capillary growth
  • Development of “Plaques and tangles” which may indicate dementia disorders
  • Free radical damage to neurons
  • Inflammatory increases which may slow or change cognitive processes
  • Though these changes have been documented, they are not always debilitating. Though the speed at which thought processes occur may slow, actual understanding may get better. Brain exercise can also help prevent degeneration and activate new areas to improve verbal knowledge and other cognitive functions.

    Exercise

    The first thing that may help with slowed thinking, foggy thought processes or poor memory is exercise. Simple exercise increases blood flow to all areas of the body, including the brain. In many adults, particularly seniors who have been sedentary, increasing oxygenation of the brain but increasing blood flow can help to reactivate and speed up some of those thought processes which may not be gone, but are simply “asleep.” Exercise doesn’t have to be vigorous aerobics – just a walk or a low-key elder “dance” class may do a great deal. In fact, anything that increases the heart rate or causes excitement can help increase the blood flow to the brain.

    Brain Exercise

    We don’t normally think of exercising our brain but it is important in maintaining cognition which actually begins to decrease somewhere around the age of 35.

    The elderly brain may lose some of its “elasticity” and doesn’t react as fast – but it can maintain “plasticity” which means it holds information and can learn more. Brain exercises are essentially games – word games, shape games, trivia games – which keep the mind supple and make it easier to quickly recall ideas, subjects and words.

    The elder brain may also become more adept at vocabulary and other processes because of the aging process but also because elders have time to focus on learning a new skill – words.

    Brain exercises may include:

  • Crossword puzzles
  • Jigsaw puzzles
  • Sudoku
  • Learning to knit
  • Practicing a new language
  • Playing a new instrument
  • Online and computer games
  • In addition to the traditional “newspaper” games, the online brain exercises have a lot to offer. Websites such as Luminosity and Senior Brains have exercises that cater to increasing memory and maintaining brain “suppleness.”

    Other “non-senior” sites and games can work in the same way, including word and puzzle games from MSN, preloaded computer games, memory games on Facebook and mobile devices.

    Basically anything that requires memory and problem solving will help maintain brain health and can decrease the chance that cognitive processes will decline.

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