Mental and Physical Fitness Build Cognitive Reserve Needed to Keep You on Your Game
Courtesy Belmont Village Turtle Creek, North Dallas LIVING WELL Magazine
Every morning most of us wake up and think about the day’s activities; and, for many, this includes a daily routine of physical exercise to keep the body fit. But what about mental fitness? How many people can say that they put equal emphasis on exercising their brain?
“It’s more important than you think,” says Beverly Sanborn, LCSW, Belmont Village Senior Living gerontologist and program developer. “Just as we build muscle strength to keep our bodies fit, we need to build cognitive reserve to help our brains stave off memory problems and keep our minds active as we age.”
Research indicates that mental fitness activities, along with a healthy diet and an exercise regimen that includes a combination of aerobic and strength-training, can help to build new neuro-connections in the brain. It is this creation of a cognitive reserve that aging adults can draw on to maintain brain function.
Changes in the brain start decades before symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease begin to show. Even when memory problems become noticeable enough to lead to a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), other cognitive functions may remain fairly “normal,” as the brain continues to compensate for changes. However, an estimated one-half of those diagnosed with MCI will develop dementia within five years. Alzheimer’s disease remains the most common type––making up 60-80% of all dementia cases.
Building cognitive reserve early could mean delaying the onset of MCI for people in their 50s and 60s. For people in their 70s and 80s, who may already be experiencing loss of memory beyond normal aging, there is hope that a carefully planned and structured day of activities can slow the progression and help maintain function and quality of life. Recent study findings indicate that the earlier you to start to focus upon mental fitness to improve cognitive function, the better.
According to Sanborn, whose programs for Belmont Village use a series of brain games and exercises to engage small groups of residents, “The key is to try something new and more challenging than your day-to-day life. Exercises that use a combination of learning new things, practice organizing ideas, problem solving, and recall of long-term learning are crucial. The best activities require you to use body, mind and memory together.”
Examples of Brain Games that can be done at home or within a small group:
- Practice organizing ideas by reading a daily proverb or verse and then tell (or write) your interpretation to someone else. Don’t just paraphrase––think about what the verse means to you and say it in your own words. The more challenging the verse, the better.
- Enhance processing speed with timed challenges––say the months of the year in alphabetical order in 60 seconds; or, list everything you can think of in a category in 60 seconds, e.g., things that are white, things that use wheels, thing that are green, etc.
- For a combination of mind, memory and body movement, look at a complicated picture or geometric design for 15 seconds and then cover it up. Then replicate the drawing or recall a list of items in the picture.
“Brain exercise resources are easy to obtain,” says Sanborn. “You can buy crossword puzzles and brain teasers everywhere, but it’s important to learn something new, and activities should be a mental stretch. Also, the reason we do these activities in groups at Belmont Village is because social interaction is one of the most important elements of mental fitness. Mental work-outs are much more effective and fun in a group setting.”
Whatever your cognitive level, having the right support and assistance is important. Belmont Village Senior Living offers a tiered structure that includes a range of enrichment programming to engage residents at every ability level.
- MBA Club® (Mind-Body Awareness) – For active residents who want to maintain mental alertness. The program integrates mental and physical workouts, creative activities, and brain-friendly foods. Activities are fun, but have specific, measureable objectives.
- Circle of Friends® – Belmont Village’s award-winning program for MCI, with a structured, seven-day-a-week calendar of research-based group activities led by a specially trained staff. Activities are designed to maintain or enhance function, encourage socialization and build confidence.
- Person-Center Living® – For residents with Alzheimer’s or other dementia types. The program is tailored to abilities, with an adaptable daily calendar of activities.
Belmont Village Turtle Creek opened in Dallas in August 2013. The community offers independent living, assisted living and memory care. For more information, please visit.belmontvillage.com or call 214-559-7015.