“Keep the mind sharp.” You hear this language as a goal for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, and we certainly have it as one of our goals in the memory care center at Brandermill Woods. These diseases are progressive conditions where the mind becomes less and less sharp and memory loss takes over. While there is no known cure, there are many treatment strategies that can slow the progression and maintain quality of life for as long as possible. A “sharp mind” is one important aim of successful treatment.
Feb. 22 is World Thinking Day, a day of contemplation that has been promoted by international Girl Guides and Girl Scouts since 1926. Back then, delegates from around the world met in the United States for a conference, and they wanted to create a special day where they could think of each other and express appreciation for the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts and their mission to educate girls.
To think of.
These qualities all go hand in hand, and they all start with the mind. Humans are both reflective and social creatures. We like to learn and we need to connect with others. These are the markers of a well lived life. As we age, our bodies may decline, but as long as our minds remain active, we can still learn and engage with others and experience all the joy that life has to offer.
Just like our bodies, our minds have a physical component: muscles and tissues that can be exercised and strengthened, a good thing to do at any age. While brain exercises can’t prevent Alzheimer’s or dementia, they can help us maintain our brain health for longer. And as signs of dementia begin to emerge, specialized brain exercises coupled with medication can help stave off memory loss.
In honor of World Thinking Day, here are four exercises we can all do to help keep our minds sharp—and one thing you can do in the early stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia:
1. Exercise, exercise, exercise.
Physicians will tell you exercise is the fountain of youth, and new studies continually demonstrate the connection between exercise and longevity. A combination of resistance (strength) training and cardio seems to be ideal, but even a long walk every day can work wonders for seniors.
2. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
The food guide pyramid tells us to eat three to four servings of fruits and veggies a day, but think of that as a bare minimum. It wouldn’t hurt to fill half your plate with vegetables at every meal to get important micronutrients and feed your brain cells.
3. Take a class.
Learning new things is the mind’s equivalent of a good cardio workout. Many area colleges offer continuing education classes for adults, and Central Virginia has an abundance of arts and cultural organizations that offer everything from painting classes to foreign language courses. Additionally, universities such as Yale offer free online lectures so you can constantly learn something new and keep the mind young.
4. Socialize, socialize, socialize.
Like exercise, social interaction is extremely restorative at any age. Regular contact with friends and relatives is especially important for seniors who might be prone to bouts of depression or at risk of isolation. Additionally, some research suggests social interaction can help ward off Alzheimer’s.
5. Know the signs of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Early detection can help you be more proactive and give you (or your loved one) time to seek treatments that can prolong your quality of life. Alzheimer’s and dementia are different from the simple slips of memory we all experience as we age, so review these signs and symptoms from the Alzheimer’s Association.