Vail Daily column: Exercise your mind to keep sharp

As people age, we all know that not everything in our body works as well as it once did.

For example, joints begin to ache, we can’t bend over as far or as easily as when we were younger, and it seems that adding numbers in our head is more difficult than when we were in high school. People do slow down as we age, yet it also appears that with the proper stimulation and exercise, we can not only keep our bodies acting years younger than our chronological age, but we can actually make our minds sharper, too.

It is clearly understood that if our body and mind are not stimulated regularly, they will atrophy. It was also a long-held belief that as we age our brain begins to lose cells, which were not reproduced and replaced — thus, the idea was that if we kept losing brain cells our mental abilities would also decline. However, the new area in neurological research believes that “neurogenesis” (the creation and growth of new brain cells) may be more the norm if we continue to stimulate the brain in new and varied ways.

The point here is that we must “use it or lose it.” Those persons that are caring for their loved ones have a wonderful opportunity through their daily contact to provide cognative stimulation. Using new and varied activities, neurogenesis may occur regularly, thus warding off such illnesses and diseases such as Alzheimer’s or dementia. Exercising the brain can:

• Improve attention span.

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• Increase blood flow.

• Strengthen brain synapses.

• Promote neurogenesis.

• Reduce gray matter.

(The above five points were taken from the article “Elderly Parents Brain Exercises — Mind Exercise Games for Seniors.”)

The simple idea is to not just work crossword puzzles or similar games, but to move into a more varied activity schedule. While ideas may be endless, here are some that are easy, accessible and inexpensive:

• Have the care recipient develop a scrapbook for their old recipes. Head to one of the pottery shops here in the valley and make something artistic.

• Takes trips anywhere. The Betty Ford Garden, Piney and Sylvan Lake are great places for walks, nature and perspective.

• Take naps as sleep allows new brain cell growth.

• Utilize the Internet. Explore things and places of interest.

• Begin to learn a new language with the elder person.

• Expand on an existing hobby, reintroduce an old one, or start a new hobby.

• Involve the senior in many aspects of meal planning. Smell and taste are great means to recall old memories and experiences.

Challenging your brain and keeping your brain sharp is one of the subjects that will be discussed at the Eagle County Health Expo next month. The expo serves as a fabulous resource of information and education. Over the next couple of months, future articles will provide greater detail about the expo. For those of us that are adult children of seniors, this event should be a must.

Not knowing why something different is occurring with those we love or not knowing what signs to look for can be very detrimental.

Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to the physical and mental wellbeing of our senior loved ones.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. For more information, go to http://www.visiting or call 970-328-5526.

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