Senior Care for the Mind

senior care

The last of the ‘think young’ generation (the Baby Boomers) are making their way to the half-century mark in age. And as they do, they are starting to think more and more about the condition of their mind. Fortunately, just as this becomes a major concern for the Boomers, there is a sudden wave of new research coming out that delves deeply into the art of senior care for the mind.

In particular, the research shows that there are four ‘dimensions of brain health’ that we all need to attend to:

  • Diet and Nutrition
  • Physical Health
  • Mental Health
  • Social Health

Diet and your Brain
Keeping the brain healthy starts by controlling what goes into it. For example, many people do not realize just how much fat goes into creating your brain. Consuming the right fats — particularly swapping out as many Omega-6 fatty acids (found in vegetable, sunflower, safflower, soybean, sesame, corn, and peanut oils) for Omega-3 fatty acids (found in coconut, avocado, and flaxseed oils as well as in fatty fish) will do wonders for the brain.

Similarly, the blood-brain barrier that protects your brain from blood-borne toxins is weakened by every molecule of hydrogenated oil that you consume. For this reason, a major part of keeping your brain healthy is avoiding anything that includes the word ‘hydrogenated’ or ‘fractionated’ on it. Vitamin E, a fat-soluble vitamin found in eggs, fatty fish, and yogurt, is also a powerful brain-booster.

Finally, a pile of new research on lutein (an amino acid known for its benefits in eye health), also supports cognitive function for those that are aging. Lutein is found in dark green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, and collard greens as well as in egg yolks and corn.

Body over Mind
Senior care has long been concerned with keeping seniors active for their physical health, but new research is showing that a healthy body improves cognition as much as it does cardiovascular health. Engaging in moderate physical activity for just 30 minutes a day (even in 10 minute chunks over the course of the day) can help new brain cells form and encourage new connections between existing brain cells. So take a walk around the block, go swimming, join a tai chi class, or otherwise find some way to get your activity in.

Older research shows that there are other significant connections between body and mind as well:

  • Continuing to get at least 6 hours of sleep (preferably 8) each night will help your brain stay healthier longer.
  • Tobacco, alcohol, and drug use all accelerate mental decline and should be avoided.
  • Simple physical contact with another person releases the hormone oxytocin, which improves social cognition (see below), reduces fear response, assists in problem solving, and makes you more level-headed.

Exercise for Your Prefrontal Cortex
A plethora of research both old and new suggests that the brain is like a muscle insofar as getting a mental workout can help your brain become more powerful. Seniors that continue to learn new skills, challenge their brain to work in different ways, and otherwise strive for new experiences find that their brain remains quick and accurate much longer than those who allow it to atrophy.

Fortunately, the list of possible brain-stretching activities is nearly infinite. For example, if you are a crossword lover, try on logic puzzles; if you already do logic puzzles, take on tangrams. If you play a lot of chess, try your hand at go; if you are a go master, take on something completely different such as Scrabble.

If you play a lot of games, try a hands-on skill such as whittling or dancing. If you are an outdoorsman, join an online debate club. The more you vary your routine, the younger your brain will be.

Social Health
One of the freshest research subjects is around the idea of social health as an element of overall health. We are just starting to gather evidence about the fact that social connectedness (a concept that is still not that well-defined) is vital to longevity and wellness. This means more than just having friends; connecting to a cause, a club, a religious congregation, or almost any collective that you can meaningfully contribute to is helpful.

In fact, the evidence indicates that one of the most important parts of social connection is feeling needed. The more you can make yourself indispensable to the people around you, the longer you will be around to be indispensable. One of the worst things for your long-term health is feeling like no one would notice if you were gone.

While you are enjoying the holidays this year, think about ways you can keep your mind in tip-top condition. Eat right, exercise your body and mind, and stay involved. Follow these everyday steps and stay sharp!

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About Peter Mangiola

Peter Mangiola is a senior care advocate with several decades of experience in the industry. Peter helps senior citizens by leveraging his vast knowledge of the healthcare industry and his expertise in identifying effective, affordable healthcare solutions. Peter has been a consultant, educator and regular speaker for many groups and organizations over the years covering a wide variety of topics; including Geriatric Care Management, Dementia, Alzheimer’s and Senior Care Health Service & Advocacy

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