Cognitive decline is prevalent among older adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 11.7% of seniors over 65 suffer from symptoms of cognitive impairment. What’s worse is that most patients with these complications fail to notice the early warning signs.
However, you don’t have to shell out thousands of dollars right from the get-go just to improve your brain health. Here are 10 simple everyday activities that may help combat cognitive decline:
1. Word Games
Playing word games is a quick, fun, and simple way to encourage the use of cognitive abilities. They’re very accessible. If you want something simple and constant, opt for the crossword puzzles in your daily newspaper. Meanwhile, seniors looking for a challenge can try Sudoku books.
2. Chess or Checkers
See those old men playing chess or checkers at the park? Join them. Yes, it’s stereotypical for seniors to indulge in these board games, but there’s a good reason behind it. Chess and checkers are mentally challenging and are sure to boost your cognitive abilities over time.
Apart from that, they’re fun and easy to play. There’s no need for any fancy equipment, you can play almost anywhere as long as there’s a table, and the game only requires two people.
Also, doing so gives you a chance to socialize with peers. Engaging in little, harmless competitions is an excellent way to stay mentally active and emotionally driven. It’s fun to work toward a goal.
One of the joys of retirement is knowing you’ll finally have time for hobbies you couldn’t do before, such as reading. Make a list of all the books you want to read, then slowly go through them all. These books can be of any genre. Digesting a book on quantum physics likely offers almost the same cognitive benefits as reading a funny fictional book does.
On that note, you don’t have to limit yourself to books as well. You can read anything you want, from almanacs to vintage comics. Overall, the goal is to exercise your reading comprehension, not get a second degree.
Pro Tip: Looking for interesting pieces to read? Check out Senior Strong. They have multiple resources older adults can use to learn more about maintaining high-quality senior living. Staying healthy goes beyond cognitive abilities. Check out the different ways to reverse the physical, mental, and psychological effects of aging.
4. Physical Activities
Cognitive and physical health directly affect each other. In fact, studies show that seniors who had a good amount of lean muscle mass were less prone to cognitive impairment, as compared to those who rarely exercised.
Now, you don’t have to follow a complete bodybuilding program to stay physically and mentally fit. You can engage in fun, senior-friendly physical activities, such as:
Walk more often. You’ll be surprised by how big a difference walking a few thousand steps every day has on the body.
Swimming is another low-impact exercise seniors can enjoy. This exercise is ideal for patients suffering from joint inflammation who aren’t allowed to walk—much less jog—for more than a few miles at a time.
Pro Tip: To make things more challenging, try taking aqua aerobics classes. The idea is to perform regular calisthenics exercises like jumping jacks, squats, and high knees underwater.
If you can’t force yourself to exercise but still want to stay active, try gardening. Tending to a garden involves more work than most people make it out to be. If you’re out of shape, you might find yourself out of breath after pulling a few weeds off of your lawn.
Plus, gardening is very fulfilling. Just wait until you start seeing your flowers bloom or trees bear fruit after months of hard work.
5. Jigsaw Puzzles
Jigsaw puzzles are more fun than most people think. It’s not the most physically stimulating activity, but figuring out how to put together hundreds of different pieces to form one big picture is a tough, mind-boggling challenge. Plus, it’s time-consuming. You’ll quickly find yourself spending hours trying to finish even just one puzzle.
Another reason seniors should play with jigsaw puzzles is they encourage spatial skills, which is crucial to one’s cognitive abilities. You can also ramp things up by taking on more difficult puzzles. There are insanely hard pictures that would take even seasoned pros days to finish.
6. Playing With Pets
Getting a pet is one of the best things seniors can do for their health. First, it keeps you company. More than 27% of adults over 60 live alone. This decision is a great confidence booster that restores independence, but the following day will get quite lonesome.
Luckily, having a pet will solve that. Several studies suggest that independent older adults who live with a pet are less likely to suffer from symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Second, a pet will keep you active. If you have an active pet that likes to run around like cats and dogs, you’ll have a reason to go out and play games.
Third, taking care of a pet will keep you sharp. One of the reasons why seniors experience cognitive decline is they become complacent. There’s not much to take care of when you’re old and retired, after all. However, if you choose to get a pet, you’ll be taking on the responsibility of feeding, bathing, and keeping these creatures healthy.
Improve your mindfulness, get in touch with your spirituality, and relieve yourself of tension through meditation. These exercises are versatile. You can perform them in the morning to refresh the mind and prepare for a long day, or you can meditate at night to calm down the nerves and enjoy deeper sleep.
Here’s a simple step-by-step guide to meditation:
- Find a good spot in your home. Make sure it’s well-ventilated, comfortable, and most importantly, away from distractions.
- Next, sit down on a comfortable chair. Ideally, you should slightly recline your back, relax the arms at the sides, and plant your feet flat on the ground.
- Set the alarm for 15 to 20 minutes—or for however long you want to meditate. Choose a calm, relaxing ringtone. Loud noises might startle you and ruin the effects of your meditation.
- Once you’ve positioned yourself, close your eyes. Gradually clear your mind of all thoughts and focus on nothing but your breathing.
- By this time, you should have already found your tempo. Keep this up.
- Don’t worry if you get random thoughts mid-meditation—this is normal. However, be sure not to panic. Instead, let your mind wander for a few seconds, then gradually shift your focus back to your breathing.
- Continue this exercise until your alarm rings.
8. Language Classes
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not meaningless or futile to learn a new language late in life. It’s actually a fun way to stay mentally active. Studying foreign languages requires extreme concentration and comprehension—this is sure to exercise your cognitive abilities.
Plus, it’s more fun to travel when you know how to speak the local language. English is a global language spoken by more than 350 million people around the world. However, there are many tourist destinations where few natives understand the language—much less speak it.
For example, if you plan to visit Japan but don’t know how to speak Nihonggo, you’ll have to limit your travel plans to popular areas like Tokyo. However, if you knew how to communicate in Japanese, you’ll be able to visit rural destinations such as Kanazawa, Yamanashi, and Osaka.
9. Arts and Crafts
Arts and crafts projects primarily offer two benefits to seniors. First, they keep you busy. If you’ve ever dabbled in art projects before, then you know how time-consuming they can be. Most working people can’t even find time for these activities.
Second, they stimulate creativity. We cannot express how important it is for seniors to stay creative as they age. Let your imagination run wild. Be inventive, come up with new ideas, and color outside the lines. There are no rules!
10. Community Volunteering
The idea that community volunteering activities are limited to the youth is a common misconception, and it couldn’t be further from the truth. There are plenty of safe, senior-friendly volunteering opportunities. These include:
There are plenty of local food shelters short on manpower and are in dire need of help distributing hot meals to impoverished individuals.
Supporting Local Politicians
Support your local politicians by assisting during campaign season. You can hand out flyers, participate in rally events, and help their party execute the campaign strategy flawlessly.
Mentoring at Youth Community Centers
Do you have a lot of life lessons you want to share? Volunteer as a mentor at a nearby community center. Nothing’s more fulfilling than knowing you helped guide a young individual onto the right path.
If you’re good with numbers and want to help those who are terrible at tax accounting, you can consider volunteering at tax assistance projects. These events are often held at community centers. You’ll be working with startup entrepreneurs, young professionals, divorcees, and widows or widowers.
Overall, staying mentally and physically active is the key to maintaining a good quality of life even as you approach your senior years. You don’t even have to do anything extravagant. Rather than following complex, specially crafted routines, shift your focus toward performing simple mind exercises regularly. Consistency is the key.
What activities do you do to maintain good cognitive health as you age? Share your daily mental and physical exercise routines with us in the comments section below!