Playing Cards | Hillandale Communities

As we get older, we seem to have what we often jokingly call “senior moments.” That’s when you can’t remember a friend’s name or you walk into a room, unable to recall why.

Do you ever wonder what happens to your brain as you age? It turns out there is a reason why seniors may become more forgetful. Their brains shrink in volume over time. Older adults lose neurons as they age, and the neurons that they do have can slow down when the brain sends messages. Then there are those pesky fat deposits that can pile up near the brain.

Studies have shown that you can help prevent cognitive decline and reduce the risk of dementia with some basic activities and healthy habits to keep your mind sharp.

Play Brain-Teaser Puzzles

When you challenge and stimulate yourself intellectually, you exercise your brain and increase your mental capacity. Games such as Sudoku and crossword puzzles are popular activities that can serve as a daily exercise to maintain senior mental sharpness. These games test one’s mathematical abilities and memory, helping older adults exercise their mental muscles. You can also try assembling a massive jigsaw puzzle or start a board game group.

Try Bridge

You can’t trump this. Playing the popular card game Bridge has proven to help seniors sharpen their minds. Researchers have found that this mentally stimulating game has positive effects on the intellectual and social well-being of seniors.  According to a study by the University of California Berkeley, playing bridge stimulates the part of the brain that directly affects the immune system. The researchers also say that mental stimulation of this sort leads to more positive social interactions and self-esteem, which in turn decreases the risk of depression and other illnesses.


It’s no secret that the mind and body are interconnected. What benefits the body benefits the brain. Exercising to the best of one’s ability is helpful for the mind at any stage of life. Just 30 minutes of physical activity each day has been shown to improve memory as well as reasoning skills and reaction times. Exercise can also enhance a senior’s mood, lessening the risk of depression and seasonal affective disorder, especially with the cold, gloomy winter we’ve been having this year. Take a daily indoor or outdoor walk. Consider water aerobics. Try an exercise bike.

Read a Book or Write Your Story

Reading provides a multitude of benefits.  When you read, your brain absorbs the information contained in the book. Reading also builds connections within the brain that make it more versatile and gets your neurons firing.  The local library is stocked with classics as well as the latest reads, Many senior living communities have on-site libraries and subscribe to the local newspaper.

Not much of a reader? How about writing your life story for the grandkids? It’s a wonderful legacy and something they will treasure for years to come.

Eat Right and Stop Smoking

Healthy foods have been linked to a healthy brain. Avoid eating processed foods and items that contain a lot of salt, sugar and saturated fats. Be sure to consume lots of fruits and vegetables.  Skip the fast food, microwavable meals and deep-fried dishes. And be sure to keep hydrated. There is a direct link to the brain “shrinking” due to lack of water.

Excessive smoking and drinking can be damaging to a body no matter how old a person is. However, at an older age, smoking and drinking can cause even more harm. According to the Alzheimer’s disease Association, smoking and drinking during the middle age years can double the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s  Disease later in life. Seniors can lower their risk by limiting their alcohol intake and avoiding cigarettes completely. 

Maintain Good Posture

Yes, it’s true. Great Aunt Leticia was right.  Maintaining an upright, un-slouched posture whether sitting or standing improves circulation and blood-flow to the brain.

Get Enough Sleep

A good night’s sleep is vitally important to a healthy mind, especially one’s memory. Seven to nine hours is the recommended amount. Not getting adequate sleep, having an inconsistent sleep schedule and oversleeping can all lead to an unhealthy sleep cycle and enhance seniors’ chances for depression, anxiety and insomnia. Creating a regular bedtime ritual helps the body’s regulation. Be sure not to consume a lot of chocolate or drink coffee or other caffeinated beverages past the afternoon. It is also wise to turn off the computer of cell phone at least an hour prior to bedtime so that the mind can relax for sleep time.

Paint, Draw or Doodle

Anna Mary Robertson Moses, better known as Grandma Moses was 78 when she started painting. It’s never too late to draw out your creative streak. Whether it’s a simple painting, drawing or craft project, the mind is being used in a creative way. There are many craft, woodworking and art groups to join.

Listen to Music

It doesn’t matter if it’s Bach, Bennie Goodman or Beyoncé. Music  deeply affects the brain and has been linked to improved cognition and memory functioning. Turn on the radio, attend a concert or learn to stream music.

Keep learning

Speaking of learning, challenging your brain with mental exercise is believed to activate processes that help maintain individual brain cells and stimulate communication among them. Figure out a computer program. Stream a movie. Attend a lecture. Surprise the grandkids with a Facebook posting. It’s never too late to learn and to keep our brains functioning at maximum capacity.