The brain is our most powerful muscle. It is the central hub of our entire body, the architect of our emotions and the guardian of our most precious possession— our memories. That’s what makes dementia such a devastating disease. Almost 6 million people are living with Alzheimer’s. It’s the most common form of dementia, a neurological condition stemming from brain damage or disease. More than 80 percent of the people with this diagnosis are over the age of 65. Now more than ever, seniors need to take steps to keep their brains empowered.

It used to be that people shrugged off memory loss in seniors as just a natural sign of aging. Now we know that sentiment to be a complete misconception. Signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s include:

  • Short-term memory loss
  • Difficulty with speech and communication
  • Confusion
  • Delusions
  • Trouble making decisions
  • Depression
  • Erratic behavior

Individually, these symptoms may not directly correlate to a cognitive disorder, but when a few or more show up together, signs point to dementia. Since seniors have the highest risk of suffering from Alzheimer’s, it’s critical that they focus on ways to keep their minds alert, active and flexible.

Engage Your Brain Daily 

One of the most tell-tale signs of Alzheimer’s is memory loss, which is why intentional, daily engagement is one of the best ways to slow or stop the onset of dementia. Playing “brain games”— like memory games or word puzzles— that encourage seniors to recognize patterns or come up with solutions is a simple strategy for exercising the brain without even needing to get out of your chair, because doing so keeps your brain from building up degenerative beta-amyloid protein. That being said, movement is also another way to keep the brain alert. Walk a different path every day, go shopping at different grocery stores, or drive down different streets to get to the same destination. Shaking up your routine is a powerful tool for minimizing mental deterioration.

Flex Your Critical Thinking Muscles Online

Keeping your brain on its toes is one proven way to keep dementia at bay. Memory activities allow you to challenge your mind and minimize brain deterioration. For tech-savvy seniors, this is as easy as turning on your computer, laptop, tablet or phone. One study showed online brain-training games reduced the risk of Alzheimer’s in senior patients for nearly a decade. For example, seniors who participated in computerized processing speed training were 29 percent less likely to develop dementia.

Seniors interested in keeping the wheels turning can explore a variety of free, online brain exercise games. A popular site, BrainHQ, gives seniors access to free or subscription-based cognitive training exercises designed just for them. These online activities work on attention, speed, memory, people skills and more. Some exercises are only five minutes long, while others can take a bit longer. Either way, the activities help keep your critical thinking and decision-making skills up to speed. 

Stay Social

Many seniors enjoy the peace and quiet that comes with retirement, but if they aren’t careful, that calm can turn into isolation. Senior isolation is one of the leading causes of premature death. Engaging with friends, family, acquaintances and even strangers can help keep your brain at the top of its game. Since speech and communication are often impaired with Alzheimer’s, making an effort to practice these skills daily will keep your mind active. Talking to people requires detailed brain functions, and spending time walking, sharing meals, exercising and playing games with others is even more complex. Staying social is one of the most effective strategies for maintaining a healthy mind.

From playing memory games to walking with a friend in a new park, seniors have the ability to push back on these diseases that can cripple the mind. Stay focused on preventing Alzheimer’s, and watch out for the warning signs. Keeping ahead of these symptoms will keep you on top of your overall well-being.

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Just like the body needs exercise to stay in shape, the brain needs to be worked out to stay fit. Mental fitness is just as important as physical fitness, and you need to keep your brain working at all times. 

Mental fitness is important for people of all ages, and one of the best tools available for maintaining mental acuity are puzzles. Research has shown that puzzles can help in a variety of ways including hand-eye coordination, gross and fine motor skills, memory, and problem solving. As Harvard Medical School instructor Dr. Scott McGinnis points out

“Exercising a specific cognitive function will improve that function. If one engages in tasks requiring working memory, such as holding and manipulating material in the mind for short periods of time, one will usually become stronger in that area”

Here are some free online resources that use the concept of puzzles to keep the brain sharp.

  • The National Institutes of Health provides a free resource for a variety of puzzles and brain teasers. Here you’ll find free access to matching games, word and number puzzles, rebus puzzles, word puzzles, and various riddles. 
  • Braingle has over 15,000 free brain teasers, puzzle hunts, codes & ciphers, and mechanical puzzles. There’s a huge variety here, including Language, Letter-Equations, Logic, Math, Optical-Illusions, Probability, and more.
  • WordCrunch is a free online word finder game with daily themes and progressive scoring.

When looking for “brain games” to help keep your brain sharp, it might be best to stay away from expensive software and apps that promise to “train your brain” with scientifically-proven methods. Sure, your brain needs a workout, but there’s not a lot of proof that a simple crossword puzzle is any less effective than specific “brain training” software.

To keep your brain sharp, focus on activities that target different areas of your brain such as problem solving, creative thinking, focus, and memory. Exercise your brain with activities you enjoy such as crossword puzzles, reading, or learning something new like an instrument or language.

Don’t be afraid to go old school. Pull out a crossword puzzle. Pull out a jigsaw puzzle. Online puzzles can be convenient, but nothing beats the mental strength it takes to put together a difficult puzzle, in person. 

Your brain controls your body, so a healthy brain can help lead to a healthier everything else. If the brain gets a proper workout, the benefits will trickle down. Don’t neglect your body’s most complex organ. 

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Hobbies are more than just something to do to kill some time. Pursuing your passions can be a powerful exercise to boost your happiness, self-esteem and overall mental health. Here are six ways that doing something you love as a pastime can benefit your mental health. 

  1. Hobbies Reduce Stress

The best part about having a hobby is that it isn’t work. Working a 9 to 5 job is just one of the many ways that we accumulate stress during the week. After clocking out, it’s nice to have something enjoyable lined up to do. Once you find that one thing you love, be it art, woodworking, sewing or learning how to play an instrument, you will always be able to chip away at that stress, especially if you’re in recovery. Once you find your happy place, you know that you can escape from all your worries and doubt. 

  1. Hobbies Provide Purpose

Sometimes we lose sight of why we are here on Earth. You work all week to earn a paycheck, but what is it all for? This question becomes even more weighted following an impactful moment in life such as a loss in the family or recovery from addiction. When you’re not sure where to find the motivation to keep going, having a hobby that you’re passionate about can put the wind underneath your sails. 

  1. Hobbies Keep You Sharp

Hobbies are meant to be just as challenging as they are enticing. When you find the right hobby, you’ll be able to find new ways to put your passion and skills to the test. This can be incredibly motivating, especially when you set smart, attainable goals to guide your progression. 

  1. Hobbies Make Happy

Whenever you finish creating a piece, or mastering a certain skill, there comes an unmistakable feeling of pride and accomplishment. The surge of endorphins that you are feeling isn’t a fluke. In fact, hobbies are known to create these positive feelings for people all the time. This surge of happiness can be powerful in moments when you are feeling down in the dumps. For an extra dose of happiness, try sharing your accomplishments with the people you love.

  1. Hobbies Boost Confidence

Another feeling you may get when sharing your work with others is an overwhelming sense of confidence in your abilities. Being successful in the things you love to do can bring an invaluable sense of self-worth. Self-worth can help you build a better perception of yourself, on that is positive. Building self-worth and confidence is essential for those in addiction recovery, because it helps them see past their flaws and finally recognize their potential to become their best self. 

  1. Hobbies Lead to Friendships

Finally, pursuing a hobby opens a lot of doors for you to meet new people and build new relationships. Socialization is an important aspect of maintaining good mental health. The connections we make with others teaches us more about who we are as humans, and helps us understand the commonalities we share with each other. There are lots of ways to find people with similar interests online. Once you find someone who shares your hobby, you can grow not only in your skills and knowledge, but also as a person. 

In order to live healthily, you need to be mindful about how your daily activities are impacting your mental health. Everyone needs an outlet to release some steam and cleanse the mind of stress and anxiety. Additionally, everyone needs to feel good about themselves and confident in their individual abilities. Taking on a hobby helps you find that meaning you need to give your life purpose and zest. Through pursuing your passions you not only improve your mental health, but also enrich the very experience of living. 

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