Enjoying Time with a Senior

If you are a caregiver for an aging relative or friend, life will be more fun for you and your loved one if you incorporate activities into a daily routine. It is best to choose activities that build both brain and body.

As a person gets older, parts of the brain shrink, especial those areas that are important to learning, memory and planning. Blood flow decreases as arteries harden with cholesterol and fewer new blood vessels grow. So it is natural that people in their 70s and 80s should find it a bit harder to remember details and names. They may not pick up new information as fast as a younger person. However, the “use it or lose it” rule applies here. Elders who keep their minds active tend to stay sharper longer.

In 2006, a study called the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) study included 2,800 healthy adults who were at least 65 years old. They were divided into four groups. Three groups were assigned to computer tasks that worked on building different activities that had to do with cognition (thinking and learning). These included memory, reasoning, and the time it took to respond to a computer prompt. A fourth group received no training.

The scientists found that all the groups who were active on computers showed improvement in the skills they were taught. Even after five years, the people who were taught new skills did better on tests than the group who received no training.

What does this tell us? The researchers think that the brain that stays active will make new connections between healthy nerve cells, storing information or making learning easier. Scientists also think that staying mentally and physically active over time help them adapt to change and keep physical damage at bay.

Here are some enjoyable activities that can keep your senior’s mind sharp, and yours too!

Scrapbooking not only organizes those photos you’ve kept in a box until now, it gives you a chance to reminisce, converse, be creative and record your family history.

Recording your loved one’s life story allows your senior the chance to feel valued. This is a great exercise because he or she gets to “walk down memory lane.” You will be surprised to hear many new stories, and your senior will be just as excited to tell you. And he or she will probably tell you things they are very proud of, building their self-esteem. You can write things down, or put their story on audiotape or video.

Crossword puzzles build vocabulary. In fact, any word game may help strengthen verbal skills. Picture puzzles are brain-builders too.

Social activities with friends and family keep your senior and you feel a sense of connection and belonging.

Exercise helps circulation, balance, mood, and brain health. It can also help control chronic disorders like heart disease and high blood pressure. So plan physical activities, too. Try to get in about a half hour of walking a day. Or 15 minutes of walking and lifting some light weights. (Check with your senior’s doctor before starting an exercise plan.)

If your senior is older, try to do easier activities. As he or she masters them, they’ll feel a sense of accomplishment.