Exercising isn’t just about having a fit and active body. As you grow older, your mind needs to stay active, or your brain may begin to deteriorate. Cognitive function will decline and can give way to memory loss, confusion, and problems such as dementia. Without good mental health, living independently may no longer be possible. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to keep your mind sharp into your golden years. Regularly doing brain exercises for seniors can be enjoyable, and most are easy to do almost anywhere.
Impact of Cognitive Decline
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 16 million individuals in the United States currently live with some type of cognitive impairment ranging from mild to severe. Those with mild impairment may have difficulty learning new concepts and remembering things but can still live independently. Those with moderate or severe impairment often live in a nursing home and can no longer read and write. Alzheimer’s is one form of severe dementia that results in a cognitive loss. While brain exercises for seniors may not stop cognitive decline altogether, they will delay and slow its onset, potentially giving you years more independence.
Five Types of Brain Exercises for Maximum Benefit
There are endless varieties of brain exercises for seniors, but these generally fall into five main categories. Each of these categories addresses different types of cognitive skills. By choosing brain games or activities from each of these five categories, you will maximize your benefits.
Short-term memory is one of the first cognitive functions to go. This is why doctors often give older adults three words to remember at the beginning of a physical, then ask them to repeat those same words back at the end of the physical to test their memory. Brain exercises for seniors should always include some memory games.
How many times have you forgotten where you’ve put your keys or what someone’s name is? Games focused on short-term memory and recall focus on these types of thought processing. They are simple in structure but become more challenging as you move through the various levels. Some games ask you to look at the picture of a room for a period of time, then try to remember everything in the room once the image is covered. Games in which you try to remember where matching pictures are on a grid (like the old television game show “Concentration”) can also be found online.
Strategy games require higher-level cognitive skills. You have to use cause-and-effect thinking and plan ahead to win a strategy game. There are classic strategy games of all levels, from checkers and backgammon to chess, that can be played online or with friends on game night. There are also board games like Battleship or Risk (if you’re into “world domination”) that require lots of complex, higher-level thinking skills. Card games like Poker also rely on a good strategy.
If you’re an online gamer who is into empire building or war games, you’re already doing a lot of strategic planning. Experts suggest, however, that you should periodically switch up which games you play so that you aren’t always using the same strategic maneuvers. Changing things up a bit will keep you on your toes and challenge you more.
Whether done by hand or online, jigsaw puzzles require you to hone your cognitive skills as you sort through hundreds of puzzle pieces to match up the correct ones by shape and color to assemble them correctly. There are also “spot the difference” puzzles and word search puzzles that rely on your ability to sort items correctly, differentiate fine details, and more.
Complex reasoning skills can be partially defined as the “If, then” thinking that goes into problem-solving. Problem-solving skills are needed for the classic board game Clue, popular Escape Room style online games, and various detective and crime-solving games. Empire building games fall into this category as well since you have to call on everything from budgeting to urban planning skills to succeed.
Creative brain exercises for seniors fall into a category all their own because they combine problem-solving skills with manual dexterity. Creative games such as Pictionary or Charades require you to think outside the box and convey your thoughts in a non-traditional, non-verbal way.
Solitary brain exercises like adult coloring, painting, and crafts will hone your cognitive skills as you mix and match your craft’s elements and assemble the pieces. You’ll also be expanding your artistic talents, which stimulate the brain. If you live in a retirement community, you probably have access to a wide range of arts and crafts classes. Taking advantage of these will not only boost your brainpower, they will give you an opportunity to expand your social circle, which also contributes to your brain health.
If you indulge in each of these five kinds of brain exercises for seniors regularly, you can ensure your brain will stay healthy for years to come. Poor cognitive function doesn’t have to become a problem if you keep one step ahead while you’re enjoying some fun and games along the way.