Question: In addition to physical fitness, what are we seniors most concerned about? Answer: In all probability, it’s cognitive fitness.
Just as you may not run as fast or jump as high as you did as a teenager, your brain’s cognitive power – that is, your ability to learn, remember, and solve problems – also slows down with age. Mainly, seniors notice that over time they gradually become more forgetful, can lose their train of thought, take longer to think of words, have difficulty keeping track of possessions, or are slow or unable to recall a person’s name. I used to experience these issues until I became aware that we can unquestionably improve our cognitive fitness: I am now much more mentally adept.
My purpose is to discuss the issues of Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), and to make suggestions which can improve cognitive fitness.
Can we Test Our Cognitive Fitness? Certainly!
There are several free tests available online, which were developed to test basic cognitive fitness. Mini-Cog consists of a three-word recall test, and the clock-drawing test. The Self-Administered Gerocognitive Exam (SAGE) embraces 12 questions; several sample tests are provided. Neither of these tests is diagnostic, nor intended to replace a doctor’s diagnosis. Instead, they should be considered as preparation for further testing, if necessary. It is recommended that several different tests be undertaken to obtain a better overall analysis. NeuroCatch is a much more objective evaluation of cognitive function, licensed by Health Canada, and administered by a health care practitioner. This device conducts a 6-minute scan to measure and report on brain function.
Can we Improve Our Cognitive Fitness? Absolutely!
It’s commonly accepted that regular exercise, eating healthily, continuing to learn, and being socially active are some of the most significant factors in increasing your mental capacity. The Harvard Medical School has published a very informative perspective on memory loss.
· EXERCISE is probably the most crucial component in maintaining cognitive health. And what beats good old-fashioned walking? There’s a plethora of other exercises, among them: Nordic walking, tai chi, water aerobics, yoga (including chair yoga), lawn bowling, dancing pickle ball, resistance band workouts, tennis, stretching, swimming, cycling and even yard work. Exercise can be at the high, moderate or light intensity level. Even light exercise is suitable, for any kind of movement boosts mental health. If you have not exercised for a while, it is imperative that you consult your doctor.
· NUTRITION – Compelling evidence suggests that diet and mental health are closely linked. By the time you reach fifty, you will have consumed some 50,000 meals. If you ate as I did, you would have consumed a huge mound of junk food. Fortunately, a few years ago, I sought the advice of a nutritionist and have since acquired a much healthier diet. The Canadian Food Guide is an excellent source of reference: eat a diet of roughly half fruits and vegetables, and the remaining half divided into whole grains and proteins. Make small changes to begin with. Don’t try to do everything at once.
· LEARNING – There is no reason why we cannot learn throughout our entire lives; the benefits for cognitive health are incalculable. We can embrace a host of activities: reading, crossword and jigsaw puzzles, checkers, chess, Sudoku, cards, drawing, painting, crafts, cooking, building models, memorizing phone numbers or recipe ingredients, learning a language or an instrument (the banjo is a nifty device), the phonetic alphabet, memorizing poetry (among my favourites), and challenging yourself with mental gymnastics, for instance: counting from 200 backwards (200,199,198…). If you want a more difficult challenge, memorize the alphabet backwards – personally, to facilitate this, I placed the letters in groups of three (zyx, wvu, tsr…).
· SOCIAL INTERACTION – It’s been well documented that socializing helps to sharpen memory and cognitive skills. Many opportunities exist to engage in social interaction, among them: tracking down friends on social media, hosting and visiting friends, checking out community resources (senior centres and places of worship), joining senior groups (fitness, walking, book and bridge clubs), and volunteering in your community.
Many studies have shown that older adults have more extensive and greater knowledge of the depth of meaning of words than younger adults. Research also shows that they can learn new skills, and form new memories. It is imperative to consider that although our memories change as we age, most senior moments we experience are normal.