We often hear that keeping our brains sharp as we age is important for maintaining overall health and cognitive function. But what exactly is cognitive function?
Cognitive function is the mental processes our brains use to think, learn, understand, remember, and solve problems. These functions include attention, perception, memory, language, problem-solving, and decision-making. In simpler terms, cognitive function is the way our brains help us make sense of the world, process information, and interact with our surroundings. So, the more often we do things that truly engage our mental abilities – reading and avoiding couch potato syndrome – the better off we are as we age.
As Australia's leading provider of quality in-home care, here are 10 daily habits that can help protect and promote brain health as you age.
Engage in regular physical activity to improve blood flow, release endorphins that enhance mood and cognitive function, and promote neuroplasticity. Think of neuroplasticity as the brain’s natural way of adjusting and reshaping itself to help us better navigate and interact with the world.
Consume a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. The Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet, for example, have both been linked to better brain health. It may be better to think of both of these types of eating as just that – sustainable eating plans rather than intense “diets”. The emphasis is more on healthy eating and less on weight loss, although, a healthy lifestyle may lead to shedding those extra kilos.
Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night to allow your brain to consolidate memories and repair itself. And do what you can to ensure you get both enough sleep and quality sleep.
Engage in social activities and maintain strong relationships to reduce stress, boost mood, and promote cognitive health. Many studies have proven both the negative effects of isolation and loneliness on our mental health and the positive impact of being sociable.
Participate in mentally stimulating activities such as learning a new skill, teaching, or volunteering. People of all ages enjoy problem-solving puzzles such as crosswords or sudoku, but that is just a start. Beyond problem-solving, seek out activities that involve learning, critical thinking and judgment, and memory skills. Think of balancing your cheque book or making a budget, volunteering on a nonprofit board, taking a class, or joining a discussion group like a bookclub. These activities not only stimulate your brain but your social life too.
Stress can have a life-changing impact on our mental and physical wellbeing. Practice healthy stress-reduction techniques like mindfulness, meditation, or yoga to protect your brain from the negative effects of chronic stress. The mental health benefits of being outside in nature are also well documented.
Managing stress is not the only element of protecting brain health. Anxiety, fear, sadness, and depression all take a toll – in fact, it is easy for these negative feelings to accumulate over time. Seek help from a medical professional to maintain your cognitive function.
Create routines and tools like calendars and lists to keep your mind decluttered and focused. Staying organised reduces the amount of mental effort required to remember and track tasks, appointments, and other daily responsibilities. This allows your brain to focus on more important cognitive tasks and reduces the risk of cognitive decline. What is more, you will gain a sense of accomplishment that, in turn, can boost your self-esteem.
Excessive alcohol consumption and smoking have been linked to cognitive decline, so it is important to consume alcohol in moderation and avoid smoking altogether. In fact, the most recent research tells us that no amount of alcohol is healthy for us.
Wear proper headgear during activities that pose a risk of head injury, such as cycling or contact sports, to reduce the risk of brain damage or cognitive decline. Even if you are not active in activities that require a helmet, remember that older adults are more prone to falls, especially around the home. Rid your home of trip hazards, improve lighting in dark areas, and install grab bars where you need them. Be sure to see a doctor after any fall – you may have hit your head without realising it. Also, remember that memory loss and other declines in our cognitive abilities are not normal signs of aging.
Associate Professor of psychology and gerontology at Georgia State University Vonetta Dotson says to think of your brain like a house. If you take care of it, you can maintain a house for decades. But if you neglect it, you are more likely to have problems over time.
Take these tips on board and be sure to speak to your local health care provider if you or a loved one starts to notice changes in cognition.
Right at Home have many companion care services that help our clients with cognitive stimulation. Talk to your local Right at Home office to see how we can help you and your loved ones in your own home.
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Founded in 1995, Right at Home offers in-home companionship and personal care, and assistance to seniors (elderly and aged care), and any adult who needs our care at home including adults living with a disability who want to continue to live independently or age in their home. Right at Home is your local expert for issues related to caring for your loved ones and is dedicated to keeping you informed about home care. With no package management fees Right at Home allows you to get more care from your package or budget.
Right at Home is a 'My Aged Care' government approved, home care provider for levels 1 – 4 and offers flexible in-home care services such as nursing care, after hospital care, post-operative care, respite care, dementia and Alzheimer's care. Right at Home also offers assistance with daily living and personal care such as grooming, hygiene, transport, shopping, meal prep, domestic services and social support, so your loved one can enjoy a more independent, vibrant life. Our nurses and caregivers are screened, highly trained, and insured prior to entering your home so you can trust us with the caregiving while you focus on your loved one.
To find out more, please give us a call on 1300 363 802 or visit our website.
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