Brain training at home for seniors:’use it or lose it’

Do you enjoy crossword puzzles, sudoku or card games? Do you do them regularly?

If you do, that’s excellent! Research studies are increasingly showing that cognitive training can improve aspects of both memory and thinking in anyone middle-aged or older. Evidence also points to a link between this kind of brain training and improved management of daily tasks for seniors.

All of which is great news for seniors who spend much of their day at home, and are currently missing out on social and community events. What’s more, if you’ve got a computer, gaming console, tablet or smartphone, there are also great games to play online whilst maintaining physical distancing.

At Vytality at Home, we’ve always included opportunities for games into our regular home care sessions, as it’s an activity caregivers and clients can share. We also encourage clients to play brain games when we’re not there, which is where those online games come in.

What is brain training?

Brain training is based on the simple idea of 'use it or lose it'. The idea is that the more you use your brain, the less likely you are to develop cognitive impairment in later life. The more you play, the better the results, according to one of the largest studies of its kind conducted by the UK Alzheimer's Society, involving over 7000 people.

“The brain training package tested in this study challenged people's reasoning and problem solving skills. The results showed that using this brain training package resulted in improvements in reasoning and remembering words after six months. The more the exercises were completed, the more likely participants were to see improvements in these brain functions.”

Brain games online

Check your phone or tablet app store for classic brain games such as Scrabble, download the app, and play with others online if you wish. If you’d prefer not to use an app, there are lots of great games online including sudoku, mahjong and WordWipe at the Washington Post newspaper website.

Brain games with paper and pen

Many of us may buy puzzle books and crossword books, but if you’re staying at home, they might soon get filled up! If like many of our clients, you like the physical aspect of writing in answers to puzzles by hand (which of course is also good for keeping your hands moving), you don’t have to play games online to get new puzzles to solve. There are many websites where you can download and print off puzzles using your home printer, to enjoy anytime.

Other ways to stimulate your brain

Games and puzzles are not the only way to keep your brain challenged. The Alzheimer Society Canada suggests that “By approaching daily routines in new ways, you engage new or rarely-used mental pathways.” Changing a daily routine can be very simple, such as dialling a phone number with your non-dominant hand, walking a different route to go to the kitchen, or doing a number puzzle when you normally do a crossword.

Totally new activities create new pathways too, such as learning a musical instrument and brushing up on your languages. Again, there are so many resources online, especially at YouTube, to get you started. Many teachers who used to hold lessons in person now offer online lessons via Skype or Zoom or similar. This not only adds a personal touch but also helps many self-employed teachers keep busy and potentially earn an income.

Theatre and concerts online

If you are missing your regular trips to the theatre or to concerts, now’s the time to enjoy some great shows and performances online. With so many countries in lockdown, theatres, orchestras and opera companies across the world are putting past performances online, usually for free. Most are streamed live at YouTube or from the company’s own website. All you have to do is click, sit back and enjoy, perhaps with a bowl of fresh popcorn!

J Kelly Newtruck of The Globe and Mail gives a great roundup of what’s available every week, and if you sign up, you can have it emailed to you. (The link to sign up is at the bottom of the newsletter.) Look also for performances from international companies such as the Met Opera in NYC, the UK’s National Theatre at Home, and musicals by Andrew Lloyd-Webber at “The Shows Must Go On" YouTube channel.

Homecare and cognitive stimulation

Most homecare companies and caregivers simply don’t have time to stop and play a game, or discuss the news, or share a favourite poem. At Vytality at Home, we offer longer care visits to allow for more than the necessaries of personal care, including time to sit, chat, discuss a news item, tackle a jigsaw, play a game of chess or whatever our clients like to do. For more details, call us.

539, 5940 Macleod Trail SWCalgary, AB