Health and Wellness: 12 neurobic exercises for older adults to try
Almost half of Americans from age 50 to 64 think they’re likely to develop dementia as they grow older, but only 5% have talked about prevention with their healthcare provider, according to a 2019 study by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation.
If you are worried about dementia, don’t be like the 95% — talk to your doctor! In the meantime, try some neurobic activities — exercises that give your brain a good workout. You can do this by closing your eyes, using your ears, adding a little challenge to everyday tasks and collaborating with people you love.
Close your eyes
Close your eyes and give your other senses a chance to shine! “Several studies over the past few years show that closing your eyes boosts brain power, improves memory, and even ignites creativity,” according to Melissa Burkley, PhD. Here are some ideas for tasks to try with your eyes closed:
- Walk from one room to another in your house.
- Take a shower.
- Eat a meal.
- Sort laundry.
Strengthen your auditory skills
Along the same lines as giving your eyes a break, try letting your ears flex their muscles (so to speak).
“Our brains and nervous systems are constantly working and responding to the world around us,” said Vina Lam, rehabilitation director at Cedar Crest Nursing and Rehabilitation, a skilled nursing facility in Sunnyvale, California. “As we experience sensory stimulation, different areas of the brain activate in response. Our bodies are designed to interact with the world, and we need stimulation — including audio stimulation — to thrive.”
Here are some exercises you can do to strengthen your auditory skills:
- Listen to a song and pay attention to just one instrument, following it all the way through the song.
- Read aloud. (Reading, speaking and hearing a word at the same time lights up three different regions of your brain.) Take it up a level by reading really quickly or really slowly.
- Turn on a metronome and snap your fingers or clap to the beat. Change the tempo as you get better and better.
Make things a little harder on yourself
We get into a routine in life, and that’s a good thing — it would be exhausting if we had to make new decisions every moment of every day. But shaking things up a little is great for your brain. How do we do this?
“Experts agree that for an activity to stimulate your brain enough to exercise it, it must meet two criteria,” said Deane Alban at Be Brain Fit. “The activity must be both novel and complex.” Here are some examples to get you started:
- Do things upside down or backward. Try writing backward or looking at your phone upside down.
- Speaking of your phone, don’t let it do all your thinking for you. Calculate the tip in your head, try spelling a tricky word before you look it up and see if you can memorize your friends’ phone numbers.
- Next time you do some squats, add this step: Each time you stand back up, cross your arms and pinch your ears. It’s the same idea as cross-training!
- Switch hands as you write, play an instrument, brush your teeth — really anything you do with your hands.
- Take a different route than usual as you drive to the store or a friend’s house.
Maintain your important relationships
No matter the neurobic activity you prefer, doing it with people you love boosts the benefits even more.
“Friends and family can help their loved one to remain as socially engaged as possible and can encourage opportunities to engage in activities that the person . . . finds interesting and enjoyable,” according to the Global Council on Brain Health. “This can improve mood and support psychological health.”
If you’re worried about the cognitive decline that can sometimes accompany aging, talk to your doctor about things you can do to prevent loss of function. As you go about your day in the meantime, throw in a couple of these brain-stimulating activities to add some spice to your everyday routine.
Sarah Hilton, RN, has 20 years of healthcare experience and serves as Stage Marketing’s director of advisory services.