When we as geriatric care managers talk about memory loss and aging, it seems inevitable that the discussion turns to Alzheimer’s Disease or some form of dementia. The truth is, however, that nearly everyone’s brain will begin that slippery slope to losing track of the keys, names or other details of our daily leaving. The part of the brain that forms memories and then helps us retrieve them is called the hippocampus, and it just degenerates with age. Scientists tell us that the hormones and proteins that rejuvenate and protect brain cells decline as we grow older. The reduced blood flow to older brains contributes to this decline as does the ability of older adults to absorb the nutrients that bolster the brain.
If you are a caregiver to an older loved one whose mental function you want to help, take heart. Here are some tactics you can implement to help keep their brain as healthy as possible:
- Eat Well. Nutrition is as important to older adult brains as it was when they were youthful and just beginning to grow their bodies. Focus on fish, white meats and all the most colorful vegetables to enhance nutrients.
- Keep Learning. There is so much that can be exciting to an older brain if only they expose themselves to the world. Encourage your loved one to read new books, travel to new places, go to museums, listen to different music, take a different way home from the grocery store.
- Work it. If your elder’s body is working, the brain is benefiting. Increasing the flow of oxygen and blood through physical exercise will, in turn, flood the brain with oxygen while also releasing agents in the brain that enhance learning.
- Don’t Multitask. Even for a vigorous, youthful brain, multi-tasking simply divides the attention that can be devoted to any one task and diminishes recall. For an older, challenged brain any reduction in distractions will allow greater focus and better ability to retain.
- Use Associations. If your older loved one meets a new person, encourage them to use an association with a feature of that person that may make it easier to remember their name. If they are visual people, use a visual assist; if they are aural people, ask them to repeat the new information or name as a way to remember.
Throughout any exercise along these lines, help your loved one to appreciate that we all forget some things at least some of the time. And we all have heard the phrase that we should “forgive and forget.” Maybe we should turn that around and encourage our older loved ones to “forget, but forgive” themselves.
Charlotte Bishop is a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. Please email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.