Why is is important to keep an active mind? We’ve all probably seen and been saddened by images of elderly people sitting around a room in a care home with their heads sunk on to their chests. That’s their life, we think. That’s never going to happen to me!
Yet all too easily, it can – or it could. True, not many care homes nowadays leave their residents for long periods without stimulation of some sort, even if it’s merely a break for a meal or a snack. But long, empty hours can and do stretch ahead for many, leading to despair, depression, hopelessness and a total lack of self-worth. So get hold of life now, or of your loved one’s life, and start to make the difference between that gloomy picture and a more positive, upbeat one.
After all, even as we age, mental decay is not inevitable. A scientific study has recently shown that, far from atrophying, our brain continues to renew itself. The process is called neurogenesis and it can be helped on its journey by following a healthy regime of exercise and diet and keeping mentally fit by honing old skills, learning new ones, and the all-important social interaction.
Activities which keep existing neural networks active and functioning, such as crossword puzzles, Sudoku, or language-based activity, are excellent. Learning a new language is well known to be greatly beneficial to an older mind, not just for its brain-stimulating effect but because it can spark a desire to travel and put the new skills into practice.
Anything new, different and challenging that puts the brain into a state of overdrive on a regular basis has got to be better for the soul than another few hours slumped in front of Bargain Hunt and Come Dine With Me.
Many of us will know people who declare they are so busy now they’re retired that they cannot understand how they found time to work. What a great situation to be in – and what a good place to aim for.
Keep busy, keep your friends, keep up the social contact and activities, keep reading (books, newspapers), write a daily journal, communicate with the family, be proactive and reap the rewards, and keep remembering that this is the time of life for you to enjoy and wring all you can out of it – not a time for winding down and letting that ‘ageing syndrome’ get you in its grip.
As far as diet is concerned, there is a simple formula: make medicine your food and food your medicine. Aim for freshly cooked unprocessed meals that boost healthy cell reproduction, made with leafy vegetables, oily fish, pulses and plenty of fresh fruit. Anything high in saturated fats, like cakes, biscuits, pastry or sausages, is liable to speed mental decline and add to a general feeling of sloth and reluctance to move about.
Exercise is key to relieving anxiety and depression and is vital for mental agility because it gets the heart pumping and the circulation going. This increases blood flow, carrying more nutrients and oxygen to the brain. Try and increase movement and agility, even if it may be difficult at first, and the mental well-being that results will give a double bonus.
If you enjoy using the computer, then that’s good, too. It’s best, obviously, not to sit in front of it for hours, but some games, for example, are designed to improve the memory and cognitive function, which makes it a more worthwhile and rewarding activity than hitting the Like button on Facebook.