The Importance of Brain Health for Older Adults

Our brains do it all. In addition to managing voluntary and involuntary physical activity, they control our cognitive abilities, like memory and decision-making, which affect — in ways large and small — every moment of our lives. So of course our brains need to be protected, nourished, supported, and treated with the best possible care. Brain health for older adults is especially important.

At Maplewood Senior Living, our communities support brain health and overall health with everything we do. Our goal is to help you live a healthy, independent lifestyle.  We are offering Your Guide to a Healthy Brain, a complimentary guide for great tips and advice for Keeping Your Brain Healthy as You Age.  Download today (click the link) The guide highlights 7 specific areas you can focus on to help improve brain health today.

As we age, certain parts of the brain shrink, especially those that control learning and mental activities. In other brain regions, communication between neurons might not be as effective when compared to the brains of younger adults. While these changes are normal parts of aging, there are steps we can take to maintain our brain health. A healthy diet, hydration, engagement with friends and family, and even how much we sleep can all maintain brain health in older adults. To help, we’ve outlined the different ways you can make small changes that will lead to long-term brain health.

What is Brain Health?
According to the National Institute on Aging, brain health refers to how well a person’s brain functions across several different areas:
● Cognitive ability — how well you think, learn and remember
● Motor function — how well you make and control movements, including balance
● Emotional function — how well you interpret and respond to emotions (both pleasant and unpleasant)
● Tactile function — how well you feel and respond to sensations of touch, including pressure, pain, and temperature
Growing research suggests that making small changes to your daily routine could help you function better for longer. These changes can also help decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s and other age-related memory loss.

Diet and the Brain
While eating a balanced diet is a great step toward achieving overall health, some researchers have suggested there are specific diets linked to improving brain function. These include:
● Mediterranean diet
● Blue Zone diet
● DASH diet (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension)
● MIND diet

Mediterranean Diet or The Blue Zone Diet
The Mediterranean and Blue Zone diets are similar because they are primarily plant-based. Meat is eaten minimally, 1-2 times a week, and it is suggested to completely avoid added sugar, refined grains, trans fats, processed meats, and highly processed foods. Both diets are inspired by parts of the world that have communities where people eat food in its most natural state, are more active, value social interaction, and tend to live longer. These lifestyles also focus on being less sedentary. Exercise is achieved through walking, chores, gardening, and even harvesting food.

DASH diet
The DASH diet was created to prevent high blood pressure but it offers several health benefits. It mitigates sodium intake — the standard DASH diet encourages 2,300 mg or less per day. The lower sodium DASH diet recommends no more than 1,500 mg per day.

MIND diet
This is a combination of the Mediterranean Diet and the DASH Diet. According to the Mayo Clinic, there is great evidence that diet can improve brain health, potentially lowering cognitive decline and dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. The MIND diet highlights vegetables, berries, nuts, olive oil, plant-based meals, and one glass of red wine per day.

Exercise for Brain Health
Recent studies suggest that the activities you do to strengthen your body, heart, and lungs can also improve your brain health. According to the Cleveland Clinic, physical activity can benefit the brain by promoting cardiovascular health, improving blood flow to the brain, reducing inflammation, and lower levels of stress hormones. To reap the brain benefits of exercise, experts suggest aiming for 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as walking, biking, or swimming.

Mental Stimulation
Practicing new and challenging activities can help you build and preserve cognitive skills and mental acuity. Our brains can learn and grow even as we age, but to do so, they need stimulation. Training our brains includes practicing a new activity each day. According to Harvard Health, “much research has found that creative outlets like painting, learning an instrument, writing, and learning a new language can improve cognitive function.” Here are a few tips to get you started in training your brain:
● Pick one new activity and devote your time and attention to it.
● Sign up for a class. This is a great way to learn the basics of the activity, especially if it requires special skills like reading music or painting.
● Schedule time for your activity. Life can get away from us! It might be helpful to schedule practice time at the start of each week to ensure consistency.

Social Connectivity
Isolation and loneliness can have a deleterious effect on one’s physical and mental health. Research has shown that those who are socially isolated can experience cognitive decline, chronic illness, and depression at higher rates than those who maintain social connections. Volunteering, spending time with grandchildren, joining a club, or even attending an exercise class are all great opportunities for connecting with others. Even speaking with a loved one on the phone or through a video call can help combat isolation and loneliness.

Mental Health and Stress Management
Stress affects our minds and body. Not surprisingly, our brains suffer because of it. Stress raises the level of cortisol in our bodies, which may impair thinking and memory. Stress presents in other nefarious ways: you may drink more, overeat, undereat, eat more of the wrong foods, decide not to exercise. Any of these stress indicators take a toll. All the lifestyle changes we listed above will improve both mental health and stress levels. If you’re suffering from stress, ask your doctor about therapy or medications that may help.
A few de-stressing tips: Be positive. Avoid multi-tasking. Exercise (even a short walk can help). Add music into your daily life. Make sure you laugh regularly. Visit with a friend or family member.

How Maplewood Senior Living Supports Brain Health
At Maplewood Senior Living, our communities support brain health and overall wellness with everything we do. Through our delicious and nutritious dining options, exercise classes, support groups, and robust activity schedule, our goal is to help each resident live a happy, healthy lifestyle. To learn more about the benefits of choosing Maplewood Senior Living or to schedule a tour, please contact us.

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