One of our greatest fears in older age is that our brains will slow down – and that’s before we even start to think about brain function or disease. So, it’s good to know that your brain can be helped to stay healthy, and work to its maximum potential – and one of the best ways is to give yourself a `brain workout’ with lifestyle changes. Lorna Hogg reports
Thanks to the EU initiative HelloBrain (check the website at HelloBrain.eu) we can discover that not only do older dogs learn new tricks, but that learning can act like a powerful drug. As you work on improving your physical and mental health and lifestyle, you can see just how your brain can be helped to work even better.
The idea is that over a period of 100 days, you pick one activity from each of the five categories included as brain ‘buffs’ – physical, social, mental, attitude and lifestyle, and challenge yourself to perform a daily task. Over the 100 days, you alternate the categories to cover the range.
Could your physical fitness be improved? An idea to get moving include trying new challenges such as cycling, using the stairs rather than the lift, getting on your bike. How about joining an exercise class, or exercising by playing with the dog or your grandchildren, or replacing some TV viewing with a walk.
Could you improve your social buffs to support brain health? Even if you have no family nearby, or have lost your network with recent retirement, you can create one. Ideas include push yourself out of your comfort zone – try volunteering, make a point of talking to someone older or younger that day. Keeping socially active or putting yourself into new situations can have a protective plus. Why not contact some friends and encourage each other by taking the Hello Brain challenge as a group?
Mental activity, especially through complex activities, can be a powerful brain buff against deterioration. Keep your brain working – get creative with painting, or photography. Memorise some poetry. Learn computer skills, or move to tougher crossword puzzles. Try a complex game, such as chess. Take classes in a new language or skill.
Your attitude is vital to your brain health, as your outlook can inspire or restrict you. Learn to manage stress and to see things differently. Plan for something pleasant, e.g. meeting or calling a friend, rather than just waiting for something to happen. Your attitudes can hold you back. Many people feel that they are too old to experience, try or learn something new. Disprove this by picking one activity which you feel you are too old to try – and doing it. Why not question your attitudes to middle and older age. Would you eat out alone? Travel alone? Learn something new? Are you prepared to ask for help if you need it? If you’re worried, anxious or lonely, why not contact Senior Helpline? It’s a confidential listening service for older people, manned by older people – and receives 28,000 calls each year. LoCall 1850 440 444
Your lifestyle can have a strong impact on your brain as well as general health. Try cutting out processed foods for on day, and eating fresh. Swop sweets or chocolate snacks for fresh fruit.. Give up sugar or alcohol for a day. Clear your bedroom of technology for a good night’s sleep. Try to prepare one meal from fresh ingredients. If you’re a smoker, cut down you intake by 10% for one day.
Go boldly where you’ve never been before – online. Many people do not realise all the advantages. Aside from paying bills, shopping, banking, learning and booking tickets, it’s also easy and affordable to keep in touch with family and friends, thanks to Skype. There is plenty of help to do so. Look for Digitise The Nation at your local library for courses. Computers for the Terrified courses are also helpful.
Research leisure schemes for the over 50s. For Dubliners, the `Passport for Leisure’ part of the `Embracing Ageing’ initiative, is a scheme open to over 55s, under which people can buy a pass for €10 per year to enjoy discounts of a wide range of events, from entertainment to shopping, cultural events and sports. Look for schemes local to you, such as the Print Workshop, run by the Creative Community programme, at the National Print Museum at Beggars Bush Barracks.
Keep proof of age with you at all times. You’ll be surprised by how widely it is accepted, and by the entry discounts you might find.
Take advantage of the wide choice of free talks, gatherings, workshops and events at your local library or museums. From local history talks, to improving your well being, computer skills and career prospects, to book clubs and even film shows, the choice is wide.
Can’t find a suitable course? Create your own one for your group, (minimum ten people) at An Grianan, which offers several slots throughout the year. They have a wide range of topics, from cookery and craft to photography and making the best of yourself. You can also join many of their regular courses. Tel. 041 982 2119.
Get the right kind of peer pressure by contacting a national association, such as Age and Opportunity Action or Active Retirement..
Happiness can arrive on four paws. If you don’t want to take on a dog for life, then could you become a puppy walker? The Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind has plenty of puppy walking opportunities. Retirees are especially suited, and you’ll need to be able to commit for a year to 15 months. Puppy food and health costs are covered.
Volunteer your help. The need is much wider than you might think. You could find yourself visiting the elderly, helping in a shop, creating a nature trail, working in a local museum or gallery, accompanying the disabled to hospital appointments, fund rising, working with a confidential listening telephone line, or helping to improve language skills with new migrants.
Find your voice – and sing out. If you are unsure about singing alone, then learn to sing in harmony with a choir, ranging from pop and rock to country. Corus is a singing class and choir experience open to anyone who wants to learn to sing with added bonus of a new social network. It is currently available in the Dublin area, Naas, Cork and Galway.
Go back to your roots. Researching your family ancestry ticks all the boxes for brain health – using mental activity in the search, physical exercise in exploration and onsite research, as well as new social contacts. The surprises or details which you uncover may give you new insights into your family or challenge the attitudes which you inherited from your bears!
Senior HelpLine LoCall 1850 440 444