Staying Sharp

By Nora Heston Tarte

lower the chances of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia

Cognitive decline is an unfortunate side effect of aging.

In many cases, forgetting your grandchild’s birthday or leaving your keys in the freezer indicates normal levels of memory loss. For many adults, however, forgetfulness could mean something more.

While aging is inevitable there are steps seniors can take to lower the chances of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia. Some activities have been linked to keeping the mind sharp.

A Healthy Lifestyle

Eating well and exercising often are surefire ways to maintain whole body health. From a young age these are the most common recommendations for living a healthy life.

High blood pressure and cholesterol problems have been linked to higher rates of cognitive disability and memory problems in the elderly. Eating healthy foods, staying away from alcohol and tobacco, and exercising often all reduce risk of developing these conditions. Exercising is also thought to help maintain positive blood flow to the brain, helping it to function optimally.

Certain foods have been heavily linked to improved memory function, including fish high in DHA, green, leafy vegetables, avocado, sunflower seeds, peanuts, whole grains, and berries. Sometimes the best way to boost memory is to reach for a leafy, green salad with an oil-based dressing (another memory-boosting food).

Exercising the Mind

The brain is a muscle and it needs to be exercised to perform at its best. Instead of sitting down to television at the end of a long day, try a challenging puzzle instead. Trade morning television time for coffee and a crossword. Games like Sudoku are also great practices for those looking to stay sharp and with technology taking over plenty of brain-busting games are at your fingertips.

Mind games don’t have to be complicated. Engaging in short practices offers plenty of benefits to the aging mind. Try doing math problems in your head or challenging your taste buds during a meal by identifying individual ingredients.

They may say an old dog can’t learn new tricks, but taking up new hobbies is one of the best ways to challenge your mind. Learn to sew, fish, or something else that forces you to be tactile. Perhaps take a creative writing or philosophy class. For some seniors, technology courses are great because the skills learned are useful in today’s world. Whatever it is, sign up and get started! And don’t limit yourself to one hobby. Once you’ve mastered a new skill, move on to the next. Keep in mind that this approach is most useful when the activity is new, challenging and offers continued learning over a long period of time.


Socializing is important for everybody. It boosts mood and staves off depression (another common ailment for seniors). Once you’ve retired, it’s easy to go days at a time without having a meaningful conversation. But just because you don’t go to work every morning doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still get up and go. Make plans with friends, visit family, and sign up for clubs and groups to meet new people in the same stage of life.

Many studies have linked grandparents who babysit to healthier cognitive function. Caring for young children is engaging as they often require significant attention and use of mental capabilities (but we don’t have to tell you that), so it’s possible the need to use these functions keeps the brain sharp. The key is balance. Grandmothers who spend five days or more watching young children have an increased risk for cognitive disorders, however, those who watch them one day each week showed reduced risk for both Alzheimer’s and dementia. It’s also suggested that grandparents who watched their grandchildren daily felt taken advantage of.


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