Cognitive impairment is one of the most common conditions seniors may face as they get older. It affects millions of people in the United States alone. According to the CDC, Alzheimer’s disease, the most recognizable form, may affect 13.2 million people by 2050.
But just because cognitive impairment is common doesn’t mean it is inevitable. In fact, a 2017 study suggested that as many as 35% of dementia cases could be delayed or prevented entirely. By acknowledging the risk factors and taking steps to address them, you may benefit in later life.
Here are some activities that can help you stay sharp throughout your life.
It turns out that your education in early life may affect your cognitive health in later life. However, that doesn’t mean you need an Ivy League education or you’re out of luck. It’s still possible (and important) to take care of your brain as an adult. Find activities that keep your mind active. Puzzles, strategy games, reading, and even simple social interaction can strengthen your brain’s connections and keep your mind sharp.
In a 2018 study, the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society highlighted the importance of sleep. Too much sleep (ten or more hours) and too little sleep (five hours or less) both seemed to contribute to risk of dementia and early death. Sleep problems are common in older adults, though, so if you wake but don’t feel rested or experience regular insomnia, it’s time to talk to your doctor.
Gardening doesn’t just give you pretty flowers to look at or fresh vegetables to eat. The physical parts of gardening—digging, planting, pulling weeds—is good for you too. Gardening is a great physical activity because it gets your blood pumping and strengthens muscles all over your body. It also requires some critical thinking. Plus, being outdoors is great for you. Countless studies have proven nature has a calming effect and reduces stress.
Enjoying life is important for maintaining cognitive health. One simple way to do this is to try new things. Change your routine, try a new activity, challenge your mind with puzzles and games. Researchers believe that when you step outside your comfort zone, your brain strengthens its resilience. It may even build up your cognitive reserves, slowing the effects of cognitive impairment.
Creative activities are excellent for brain health. Taking up a craft, especially hands-on crafts such as quilting or woodworking, can help reduce the likelihood of cognitive impairment. (By up to 55%!) If you don’t want to learn how to sew or carve wood, you can still get these benefits. Most creative expression can help the brain form new connections in areas where activity tends to decrease with age. You may even find out your ability to handle stress has increased.