True dementia is a physiologic condition, meaning there’s no proven cure. But research suggests that challenging our minds may play a role in warding off some of the signs of mental aging. In other words, exercise — not the physical kind (though that’s good for brains, too), but the cerebral kind — is promising.
The evidence isn’t clear, but as one set of brain researchers noted, “it can’t hurt.” And healthy challenges are certainly part of a satisfying life.
So how can you get parents in a good cerebral routine? Try these mental exercises for the older loved ones in your life.
Go digital: If Mom and Dad aren’t already computer savvy (and lots of seniors are), now’s the time to get them started. Ease them over their “I’m going to blow this thing up” fears. Give them a tablet or laptop and let ‘em surf. The tinkering alone is a great exercise.
Go more digital: Don’t stop at beginner — learn more! Go virtual with online learning to show the ropes on fun things like photo editing software and video transfer apps. The latter has the added benefit of allowing your folks to enjoy old memories while transferring them to hard drives.
Let them play solo: Cyberspace is a wealth of games, from solo card games to brainteasers. AARP and METV are bottomless wells of amusing and lighthearted quizzes, testing Boomer-era knowledge of everything from classic TV to cholesterol.
Play against them: Socializing is good for brains, too. That makes multi-player games like Words with Friends a double bonus, challenging minds and connecting players. Even better, these games can all be done through apps on your mobile device so you can still keep their brains active while practicing social distancing.
Go old school: There’s no rule that says brain games only happen on a computer. Break out the Scrabble; set up the chess board; and ante up for poker (may we suggest pennies). The best part: game time doubles as family time. If you’re in different households, set up a time to play over a video call. You can still play your favorite board game against one another from the safety of your own homes.
Learn a language: Think second languages are just for fun? They can actually increase the size of your brain. Duolingo is free, offers 31 languages (including Klingon), can be played on any device, and includes exercises, challenges, and stories to take at your own pace. And it’s way fun.
Do a puzzle: Crosswords? Jigsaws? Sudoku? The required deductive reasoning is optimal mental gymnastics.
Try out a new skill: Knitting, photography, and baking all require attention, focus, and thought. Plus, you can wear, display, and eat the results.
Finally, don’t forget the physical side. One study suggested a mile walk a day can actually increase gray matter. Another said blood pressure and exercise are the other two of the big three (the third being cognitive training) most promising elements for at least potentially reducing your risk.
And remember: some cognitive change is inevitable for all of us (how many of us spend time searching for, what’s that thing called…words?).
But engage Mom and Dad in some good old brain games. The fringe benefit? When you do, you’ll keep yourself sharper, too.