Changes happen in every area of our bodies as we age, including our brains. Through medical research, we have learned that certain areas of the brain shrink over time, especially those related to learning and performing complex mental tasks. Inflammation may develop due to disease or injury, and neurons in certain parts of the brain may not communicate as effectively as they once did. Changes like this can have a significant impact on cognitive function for even the healthiest seniors and this poses challenges for independent senior living. Ongoing research is finding that despite the natural aging process the brain can adapt by creating new neural pathways through a phenomenon known as neuroplasticity. This is happy news for any senior who is concerned about maintaining brain health as they age. Seniors can harness the full potential of neuroplasticity and promote cognitive health by focusing on several aspects of their lifestyle. Make Physical Health and Safety A Priority If the rest of your body isn’t healthy it can’t properly support your brain health. Stay on top of your recommended health screenings and make sure any chronic conditions are properly managed. Know your medications and discuss any possible side effects on memory, sleep, and brain function with your healthcare provider. Avoid alcohol and nicotine, and make good sleep habits a priority. Go through your home and correct any fall hazards you may find to minimize the risk of brain injury from a fall. Keep Your Mind Active Engaging in meaningful activities not only helps seniors to feel happier, but learning new things has been shown to improve memory and processing speeds. Engaging in hobbies that challenge the brain can be beneficial to mental agility as well as overall well-being and quality of life. Activities can include many things from taking a class to learning a new craft like quilting or woodworking to playing games. Anything that makes you think and learn can help your brain adapt to aging and lower your risk of dementia and cognitive decline. Eat Healthily You’ve heard it all your life. You need to avoid junk food and eat a healthy diet. And it’s never been more important than it is now. Research has linked healthy eating with preserved cognitive function and a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Some research indicates that a Mediterranean diet may be particularly beneficial. A healthy diet generally consists of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, fish and poultry, and low-fat dairy products. Avoid added sugar, high sodium, and highly processed foods. Keep High Blood Pressure Under Control When thinking about the negative effects of high blood pressure on the body, thoughts usually go to the heart and kidneys, but studies have shown that keeping your blood pressure under control lowers your risk of cognitive impairment and dementia. Because high blood pressure often doesn’t produce any noticeable symptoms it’s important to check it regularly to make sure that it’s well controlled. Stay Physically Active Research has discovered a link between physical activity and brain health. One study found that exercise not only helped maintain old neural connections but also helped the formation of new ones. Other research has found that aerobic exercise seems to increase the size of brain structures related to memory and learning. Older adults should aim for at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of physical activity each week. Walking is one popular activity. For those with mobility issues exercising in a pool may be a good option as it’s more gentle on the joints. Be sure to consult your healthcare provider before beginning any new exercise program. Keep Stress Under Control We can’t always do anything about stressful situations and events, but we can change how we manage that stress to minimize its negative impacts. Chronic stress affects memory function and increases the risk of dementia. So stress management should be a priority for seniors. Exercising regularly, practicing relaxation methods, and journaling are some easy ways to manage the stress that can have a significant effect on brain health. Maintain Social Connections We know that human connection and socialization help boost mental health in seniors, and it also promotes cognitive health as well. Engaging in social activities and community events helps to keep your brain active. Those who participate in meaningful and productive activities even tend to live longer. Spending time with friends and family is the best socialization but volunteer work, joining a club, or even forming a walking group with a few older neighbors are also great ways to increase social connections. Reduce Cognitive Health Risks There are certain risk factors to cognitive health from genetics to environmental concerns, to lifestyle choices. Some like genetic factors we cannot change, but others we can. Certain medications and the improper use of others, lack of physical activity, social isolation, poor diet, sleep problems, and using alcohol or tobacco products are all risk factors that can be controlled to reduce the cognitive health risks associated with them. Talk to your healthcare provider about these risks and ways to reduce them. The sooner you take steps to promote good brain health and mental agility the better quality of life you will have throughout your senior years. It’s never too late to take control of your health. At Ashbridge Manor Senior Living we pride ourselves on creating an environment that enables seniors to lead a fulfilling, socially active lifestyle and independent lifestyle. When it’s time to transition to a senior living facility, contact our professional staff members and we can help make it easy. You can find us at 971 E. Lancaster Avenue in Downingtown, PA, call 610.269.8800, or contact us online for more information. Ask us about our move-in special!