Everyone needs a brain. You know this; I know this. You probably think there is nothing you haven’t heard about keeping your own brain healthy. You’ve even been studying how to encourage your older adult parents to do more with their brains than play golf or work the crossword.
Doesn’t it feel like you have too many things to do already and you’d rather just let your brain take care of itself, for Pete’s sake?
Good news. A lot of what we midlife adults do, such as work and life management, keeps our brains healthy and active. In fact, according to Roberto Cabeza, PhD of Duke University’s Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, the midlife brain (40-60 years old) may operate more efficiently than a younger brain because older brains tend to use both left and right hemispheres. So just by virtue of being people of “a certain age,” we’re already in a good spot.
With so much concern about developing Alzheimer’s disease, it is easy to question the old saying, “with age comes wisdom.” Other experts have found the midlife brain to rival younger brains for several “wisdom” related qualities, such as the ability to interpret/find meaning, handle ambiguity, and moderate temperament.
Even more good news is this: “use it or lose it.” According to Dr. Michael Maddens, Chief of Medicine at Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, MI, we truly will lose our mental sharpness if we don’t work to keep it. This really is good news, even though it sounds like more work, because it means we are not at the mercy of a relentless, uncontrolled free fall of mental ability which people thought happened as a natural result of aging. We can use “mental fitness” routines to bulk up our mental abilities. Authors Sandra Cusak and Wendy Thompson of “Mental Fitness for Life,” created a 7-stepcourse based on research on 2100 Canadian seniors. Like breathing, some of these you’re doing unconsciously now. Check out this list anyway to see what you might want to tweak.
- Set Personal Development Targets: Learn to play the bassoon or rock climb, i.e.
- Clean House: Out with your old ideas of self-limited possibilities and in with new convictions of life-long potential for growth.
- Create: Grandma Moses began painting at 76. What do you want to create? Whether it is a white garden or a photo essay, make it happen.
- Cultivate a Positive Attitude: Negative Nell and Ned need to be nixed! Researchers have found that positive attitudes can be cultivated. Positive people live healthier, happier, and longer lives. Think about the people you like to be with, of any age. Are they positive or negative? Change if you need to.
- Never Stop Learning. This is a powerhouse exercise because active learning actually grows new brain connections.
- Speak Your (Wise) Mind. Cusak and Thompson suggest starting a philosopher’s café, which seems like a wacky idea, but you may have a de facto one going already in social groups where you discuss books or current events in a civil fashion. If you’re an expert in your field and others seek your opinion, you’ve got this one nailed.
- Work your Plan. Figure out which of these exercises is missing from your routine and then don’t think about it, “Just Do It.”
I have my paintbrush in hand–I feel mentally sharper already.
Sources: Experience Life Magazine, “Ageless Vitality” by Eliza Thomas
Lee Nyberg serves her world through her long-term care company, Home Care Assistance. If you know of someone who needs help continuing to live independently, pass along this number: 402-261-5158. We’re here, enabling seniors to keep their dignity, control and independence.
Photo Credits: Think! By Christian Weidinger