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Use It Or Lose It

What causes the kinds of "brain drain" that seniors most want to thwart?  According to Dr. Ronald Peterson, director of the Mayo Clinic's Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, multiple factors...

Home Instead Senior Care Helps Keep Seniors’ Minds on the Move

Research increasingly demonstrates that keeping older adults engaged in ‘brain games’ can provide many important advantages.

“Brain games help keep aging minds young and vital,” said Paul Hogan, President and CEO of Home Instead Senior Care. “But many of today’s seniors have said goodbye to traditional ‘senior’ games like bingo. They gravitate more toward video-game technology and group activities such as Scrabble and bridge tournaments.”

A study from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia published in a 2006 issue of Psychological Medicine determined that individuals with high “brain reserve” – gauged by an assessment of education, occupational complexity and mentally stimulating pursuits in preventing cognitive decline – have a 46 percent decreased risk of dementia relative to those who are classified as having low brain reserve. The study also revealed that even a late-life surge in mental activity can help ward off the effects of this terrible disease.

Unfortunately, however a deterrent for many seniors who would like to stay mentally active is lack of companionship – particularly for older adults living alone.

“Sometimes seniors just need a little encouragement from family and friends to help them pursue interests that will help keep their minds stimulated,” Hogan said. “Our Home Instead CAREGiver training includes a component specifically targeted to identifying client interests and coming up with ways to engage them in mental and other activities to keep them engaged and enthused about life. Consequently, our CAREGivers have observed many positive life changes for the older adults in their care.”

What causes the kinds of “brain drain” that seniors most want to thwart?  According to Dr. Ronald Peterson, director of the Mayo Clinic’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, multiple factors apparently contribute to a sluggish senior mind.

“There is often a genetic component to Alzheimer’s , but the environment plays a role as well, Peterson said. “The cumulative effects of medical issues – vascular changes like hardening of the arteries, for instance – also contribute to dementia, and the connections between nerve cells most likely don’t work as well, either.”

Peterson has also observed that the wisdom and acquired experience seniors bring from their past to the table is often under-valued in our society – another important reason for seniors to keep both mind and body “in shape.”  He also emphasizes that there are no iron-clad rules about which senior mind activities are best suited to warding off the effects of aging.

“Whether it’s a computer game, crossword or Sudoku puzzles, or reading and analyzing a newspaper or magazine – first and foremost, seniors need to enjoy whatever activities they are engaged in,” Peterson said. “If your senior does not enjoy his or her activities, they are not likely to be beneficial, whatever they are.”

Video technology has attracted many seniors’ attention.  For instance, the second-annual “Evercare 100 @ 100 Survey,” sponsored by Evercare, polled one hundred Americans turning 100 or older about their practices and habits, and found that one in seven has played video games.1

Similarly, Nintendo’s Brain Age™: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day – a video game for the portable Nintendo DS™ that features simple math and other activities – has received high marks from seniors and researchers alike.

Then there’s the company’s new Wii™ home video game system, which allows players to interactively compete in sports such as bowling and golf. It has been flying off the shelves since its release, and seniors comprise a significant percentage of its consumer market. Senior care communities around the country have even begun to host Wii tournaments.

Dr. Elizabeth Zelinski, a professor of gerontology and psychology at the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology at the University of Southern California says games such as Brain Age definitely can help keep older adults’ minds active.

“My family, including boys ages 17 and 21, has a long history of interest in video games,” she said. “Like kids, seniors now play games like chess with people all around the world. It’s all about communication. Seniors can do a great deal to maintain and even to improve their mental abilities. Today, aging is all about taking on new challenges for our minds.”

Tips for Mind-Stimulating Fun

If you’re still not sure on how you might get your senior loved one interested in pursuing some mind-stimulating activities, consult the following list of ideas from Home Instead Senior Care:

Video action. Interactive video games have become popular for family members of all ages. Some games, such as Nintendo’s Brain Age, and the new Wii home video game system, are particularly good for stimulating seniors’ minds.

Computer savvy not needed. Even seniors who are intimidated by the computer still can play online and other computer games. Why not try to help them get started playing Solitaire or joining an online bridge game?

Organize game night. Board or card games offer a great avenue for mind stimulation. Encourage your senior loved one to get a few friends together to join in the fun.

The magic of music. Many seniors were avid musicians in earlier years and some may still have pianos or other instruments in their homes.  Ask them to play you a tune or challenge them to learn an instrument.

Tournament fun. Bridge and Scrabble tournaments for seniors are springing up around the country. Check with your local senior center or Home Instead Senior Care office to learn of any activities in your area. Or encourage your older adult to join a local bridge group.

Think big. Crossword, large-piece jigsaw and Sudoku puzzles are great pastimes for seniors who need a mind-stimulating activity when they are alone.

Out and about. Most communities have concerts, lectures and other pursuits that interest seniors and their families. If your loved one is able to get out, consider those.

In the news. Many seniors maintain their interest in politics and current events. For your senior’s next birthday, why not renew a subscription to a newspaper or popular news magazine, or organize a news discussion group.

Just the two of you. When it’s just you and your senior loved one, remember that there are more things you can do together than just watch television. Hasbro Inc., the largest U.S. game company, has introduced three fast versions of classic board games this year: Monopoly Express, Scrabble Express and Sorry Express. Less time to play – same great fun!

Companionship Counts. Elderly companionship is an important part of stimulating seniors’ minds. If your senior has no one to spend time with, consider hiring a home care companion such as a Home Instead CAREGiver. There are many people who have committed themselves professionally to help ease the challenges aging presents to older adults and to their families. They’re available, and they want to help.

1.  Online at;jsessionid=PPLJNNEFIBMA.


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