Research proves that brain-stimulating activities and habits can help stave off Alzheimer’s. Not surprisingly, the brain can benefit from a good workout just as the body does.
Engaging in mentally stimulating activities such as reading, writing and playing games can improve brain health. Exercising your brain can help prevent beta-amyloid deposits from developing. These are the destructive proteins that have become the hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.
Experts say that stimulating the brain can also stimulate the senses. Triggering sensory responses helps us stay engaged and pay attention. Yet another example of how activating the brain can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
Try incorporating some of the following brain-stimulating activities to make a difference in Alzheimer’s care and prevention.
Brain training and exercise can be fun! They improve everyone’s cognitive ability but can also help prevent Alzheimer's and dementia. Try brain game workout like:
- Crossword puzzles & Sudoku. These are games that require high levels of thinking.
- Scrabble. This is a board game involving words. It’s a great problem-solving workout.
- Cards games. This could be duplicate bridge, a game of poker with the guys, or a cut-throat game of Hearts with the grandchildren.
- Chess & checkers. More challenging board games!
- Jigsaw puzzles. Whether it’s a 300-piece puzzle or 1000- piece puzzle, putting it all together is a good exercise for the brain.
- Online video games and other digital games. These engage the brain and couldn’t be more convenient. They can easily be played from the comfort of a chair in your own home (or anywhere!) on a cell phone or other mobile device.
Reading & Writing
According to researchers, reading is more neurologically demanding than processing images. Reading involves many brain functions -- vision, language, and associative learning. Putting pen to paper requires eye and cognitive coordination, so does writing on a computer. Here are some ideas to encourage more reading and writing:
- Make reading a daily activity. Whether it’s the newspaper in the morning or a book every afternoon, read every day.
- Join a book club. This not only encourages reading, but dialogue and social interaction with others as well.
- Keep a journal. What happened, what did you do? Any special accomplishments? What surprised you; what did you observe or learn?
- Write a memoir. What a great way to share your life story with younger family members.
- Handwrite cards & letters. Who doesn’t appreciate a handwritten note?
Arts & Crafts
You don’t need to be Martha Stewart to make a decorative wreath or put together a scrapbook. Working with your hands and crafting something new will help keep the mind and senses finely tuned. Here are some ideas:
- Painting & drawing. Put paint on a canvas, sketch the birds in your garden, draw pictures.
- Knitting and needlepoint. Knit the grandkids a sweater or needlepoint Christmas stockings for them.
- Woodworking projects. Consider a simple woodworking project like making a bird feeder.
- Create scrapbooks and photo albums. This can be great fun and remind us of good times.
- Holiday craft projects. Decorate Christmas ornaments, create Easter baskets or carve Halloween pumpkins
- Make jewelry. Stringing beads and other simple jewelry projects require concentration.
- Seasonal wreaths. Craft stores have all the wreath-making materials you’ll need as well as glue guns!
- Favorite family recipes. Fill a recipe box or book with all your family favorites to pass on to future generations.
Learn a New Skill
If your mind is challenged to learn, it stays active and healthy.
- Take a class. Most local communities offer affordable classes through their Park & Recreation programs. Sign up for a cooking school class or a lecture series. Maybe you’ve always wanted to play guitar? Take lessons.
- Learn a new language. You can do tutorials online, buy language tapes, flashcards or books and teach yourself a new language in the comfort of your own home.
- Become a photographer. Master digital photography and photoshop techniques on your phone and computer or learn to operate a camera.
- Tackle new technologies. At the rate computer software and hardware are changing, there is always something new to learn. Fortunately, laptops, IPADS, and other mobile devices can go anywhere with you.
- Online lectures, programs. Enjoy the vast array of free programming that is available. Many organizations and universities offering provocative and informative speaker series.
- Take up birdwatching. Identify and track birds in your own backyard or local area.
Music & Dancing
Both of these pastimes have been clinically proven to help activate parts of the brain and prevent cognitive decline.
- Listen to music. Music engages the mind and the senses; it can be soothing as well as stimulating.
- Sing. Singing, even humming a tune, can lighten your spirits, and remembering the words will keep your brain honed. Sing to your partner or just sing in the shower!
- Play your favorite musical instrument. Practice the piano; strum that guitar. Musicians keep their hand-eye coordination finely honed and their brains tracking.
- Dance a little. Or a lot. Dancing is a terrific activity for hand, eye, brain coordination. It’s also fun and makes for social interaction.
- Attend music programs. Whether they are live or virtual, opera, symphony & ballet companies, jazz centers and other music venues offer repeat performances online that you can savor with a glass of wine in your own living room
- Plan a hootenanny. Invite others who are musically inclined to come over and perform together. Plan a program to entertain others or just entertain yourselves.
Healthy body, healthy mind. We’ve heard that mantra for years. Researchers have learned that physical activity can help reduce Alzheimer’s risk by up to 65 percent. Exercise reduces the risk of blood vessel disease, improves breathing, and supports the survival of cells that make up the body and brain. Exercise also reduces chronic inflammation and improves cardiovascular health which are both risk factors for Alzheimer's disease. Here are some easy exercise ideas:
- Stretching. Make simple stretching a part of your daily morning routine.
- Walking. Walking daily – even for 15 minutes – can be very beneficial.
- Yoga or tai chi. These low-impact practices are also excellent for the mind, body and spirit.
- Chair yoga. Even more low-impact! There are books as well as online classes for guidance through these gentle stretching, breathing and balance moves. Namaste!
- Online exercise classes. Whether it’s cardio, abs, or simply stretching, there are innumerable free, online classes to be found.
- Dog walking. Offer to walk a friend or neighbor’s dog. This may give them a break and give you some extra exercise.
- Gardening. Gardening is great exercise and learning to plant, care for and cultivate flowers or your own vegetable garden will keep your body and your brain busy.
Remain interested, active and engaged in life and your brain will remain active as well. Here are some places to go and things to do that will help keep the mind stimulated. If you can’t leave home, many of these venues can also be experienced online:
- Museums. Museums, art galleries and special exhibits are thought-provoking.
- Movies and/or theater. Not only are these entertaining diversions, but they can stimulate the mind and all the senses. If you can’t go to the theater, bring it to you. Watch a movie then discuss it with a friend!
- The library. Make regular trips to the library; browsing the shelves can be an adventure that keeps your brain sharp. Ebooks are also a great way to have a library at your fingertips.
- Talk to neighbors and friends. Don’t become a recluse. Even if it’s over the garden fence, engage with others.
- Volunteer. Get involved in a local community organization. There are many ways to volunteer in person or remotely,
- Animal fostering or adoption. Not only does this keep you busy during the day, but it can also involve walking a dog, getting some fresh air and exercise.
- Author book talks. Most local bookstores host author events. Event spaces are getting creative in the way they host socially-distant events as well.
Learn Something New Every Day
Get out of your regular routine; try something new. It can challenge your mind and stimulate brain stem growth.
- Take a new route on your daily walk. Walk in a new place, with different scenery, different sights to see.
- Try a new recipe. Experiment with something exotic or foreign like vegetarian Indian food or a Moroccan tagine. Or just cook something you don’t usually make, like a cheese soufflé.
- Learn a new word every day. Read the dictionary! Share the new word with someone. It will help you remember it.
- Gather new information. Listen to a daily podcast or a favorite news show. Write down a new fact or idea and share it with someone.
- Travel virtually. Choose a different city in the world every week and spend 30 minutes a day, learning what you can online about it. Not only will it take you away from your usual routine, but you will travel around the world, visiting faraway cultures, sights and sounds all from the comfort of your own home!
It’s never too soon to start. Researchers note that a lifetime of engaging in these cognitively stimulating activities can enhance brain health and help defer the risk of Alzheimer’s. If you remain curious about life and continue to learn new things, your brain will remain active and challenged. As the old adage goes: if you don’t use it, you lose it.