As we age our mental abilities or cognitive function naturally declines. Your memory is not what it used to be, your problem solving skills aren’t as sharp and the speed with which you process information can slow.
Conditions such as Alzheimer’s also affect your mental capabilities. However, research has shown that there are things you can do to slow this decline and and in some cases improve your cognitive function. Just as exercising your body keeps your body fit and healthy, so too exercising your brain can keep your mind active and engaged.
What is mental stimulation?
Mental stimulation is activities or exercises that get you thinking and encourage your brain to work and develop.
What are the benefits of mental stimulation?
Some of the benefits of mental stimulation for older adults include:
- Increased concentration and focus
- Improved memory
- Improved mood
- Social connection
- It may lower the risk of cognitive conditions
Mental Stimulation Activities
Mental stimulation activities can range from something as simple as having a conversation to something more complex such as learning a new language.
Here are a few mental stimulation activities that you can try with your elderly relative, friend or client.
Reading and writing
Reading and writing are simple activities that can help to stimulate brain function. They can increase your knowledge, get you thinking, improve your memory and also help with social connection. Whether it’s reading the newspaper or a book, it can be beneficial. It also doesn’t matter what form of writing – your loved one can write stories, letters or even a shopping list.
Crafting is a great way to stimulate brain function. It allows you to immerse yourself in the activity, takes concentration and will also involve some thinking if it’s a new endeavour. Some crafts to consider include painting, knitting, woodworking and colouring to name a few.
Play a musical instrument
Playing a musical instrument takes focus and concentration and also involves using your memory to remember the notes. If your loved one plays an instrument then encourage them to play regularly. If they don’t currently play, it’s never too late to try. It’s not about being an expert, it’s the process of using your brain to learn something new.
Solving puzzles is fantastic for mental stimulation. Not only does it get you thinking and processing, but it can also help with relaxation. There are lots of options when it comes to puzzles from jigsaws to crosswords to Sudoku – the choices are endless.
Playing board games
There are lots of great board games out there that involve thinking, tactics and problem solving and stimulate the brain into action. A few good ones include scrabble, chess, Mastermind, Cluedo and Battleships.
Playing a game of cards has been shown to improve your thinking skills and your memory. Varying your card games can also help brain function. Try bridge, gin rummy, poker or solitaire to name a few.
Gardening may seem like more of a physical activity than a mental one but it too can help brain function. Researchers have found that high levels of stress can impact memory, learning and may lead to mental illness. Gardening is a great activity for reducing stress and calming the body.
All of these activities can potentially help you to engage with your elderly friend, relative, or client in order to help them to relax, bring back fond memories and give them some joy.
Deciding on which mental stimulation activities
When you are choosing mental stimulation activities always consider the individual involved. Think about their background, condition or illness, likes and dislikes and choose your activities accordingly. While your aim is to engage their cognitive skills, it should also be relaxing and enjoyable too!
Too much stimulation
Always be conscious of the reactions and emotions of the person you are trying to help. Be careful not to push them too hard, as this can have the opposite effect.