As adults get older, it becomes more important for them to stay mentally active. This can not only reduce the onset of cognitive decline, but provide meaningful benefits in a multitude of different areas. Older adults who get active and regular mental stimulation tend to display better moods, show better health results, and ultimately enjoy a higher quality of life.
From choosing the right gifts to offering more rewarding activities, there are many strategies you can use to help the older adults in your life stay mentally active.
Go New Places
One of the best things you can do is travel to new places. Depending on this person’s mental and physical capabilities, you may not be able to travel the world, but you can at least visit new places in your local surroundings.
Can you visit a new museum or go to a new restaurant? Is there a new park or an area of your favorite park that you’ve never seen? Sometimes, just going for a walk around the block can introduce you to something new – the point is, you have to go outside the house and experience new things.
Play Games and Solve Puzzles
Another great way to stay mentally stimulated is to play games and solve puzzles. Any interactive activity that demands at least some thought can be valuable here. If you’re visiting in person, you can solve a puzzle together or play a board game. If you typically talk to this person remotely, consider playing a competitive or cooperative game with them; there are plenty of free games and apps that allow you to connect with other people.
Have Stimulating Conversations
It’s easy to stay mentally stimulated if you frequently have stimulating conversations. Fortunately, this doesn’t demand much time or effort. Every time you start a new conversation with this person or visit them, try to bring something new to the table.
Is there a book you’ve read recently that you can recommend? Is there an interesting news story worth discussing? Did you both recently see a movie that you can share critiques on?
Provide Books and Resources
When possible, provide books and other resources this person can read and peruse on their own. You won’t always be around to offer intellectually stimulating conversation, so it’s important to establish some processes for this person to practice independent discovery. Buying them a book, renting them a movie, or providing them with access to an online library of content could be exactly what they need.
Suggest New Hobbies
Countless activities can be meaningfully mentally stimulating. In fact, almost anything you do can be considered mentally stimulating if it provides you with novel experiences, forces you to think about what you’re doing, and is genuinely enjoyable. The trick is to find a new hobby that this person genuinely loves that is also accessible to them.
Find out more about their personal interests and the types of activities they’ve enjoyed in the past. Then, you can recommend new hobbies to them and help them get started in these hobbies.
There’s no shortage of options here. You can help this person build models, start a garden, learn how to play chess, or even learn how to dance (provided they’re mobile enough to do so). Get creative and find something truly inspiring.
Get Plenty of Exercise
It’s tempting to think of physical activities and mental activities as entirely separate categories, but the reality is, physical activities can be mentally stimulating as well. Physical activities tend to require focus and coordination, and they often introduce you to new areas. Even simple activities like hiking, recumbent biking, and water aerobics can provide sufficient mental stimulation to stay mentally active – especially if this person is frequently going to new areas to practice these activities.
Meet New People
Socialization has many psychological benefits for older adults. That’s why it’s so important for you to have regular conversations with this person. However, having conversations with the same person all the time can get tedious and gradually less rewarding.
If you want to see better results, help this person meet as many new people as possible. Help to introduce them to their neighbors, provide them with opportunities to meet and talk to new people online, and suggest hobbies that have a high chance of forcing them to engage with others.
A Final Note: Taking It Slow
There’s one important caveat we need to make for older adults with dementia or other types of cognitive impairment. For these adults, it’s essential to stay within their current abilities and comfort zone. Introducing activities that are too challenging or overstimulating can backfire and potentially cause stress, frustration, upset, or confusion. Take things slow and work in new activities one at a time.
Staying mentally active as an older adult isn’t necessarily hard, but it does present some challenges and demand consistent attention. If there’s an older adult you care about in your life, take it upon yourself to make it easier for them to stay mentally active.
Even a small amount of time each week can have a measurable impact on the rate of their cognitive decline and overall quality of life.