July 2020 | Wesley Ridge Retirement Community

Game On: Can Brain Games Improve Your Memory?

There are a number of so-called “brain game” products on the market these days. These typically are computer or smartphone/tablet-based games that claim they can help improve seniors’ cognitive function and memory. But do they really work? Could playing video games be the secret to decreasing the prevalence of neuro-degenerative conditions like dementia? And what about things like crossword puzzles and sudoku—can they help seniors stay mentally sharp?

Aging and brain function

It is a normal part of the aging process to experience some decline in the number of neural synapses within the brain, which are imperative to memory and cognitive function. There are also conditions like dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease) or Parkinson’s disease that cause more severe and debilitating cognitive decline among older people.

Some of the causes behind cognitive decline may be preventable by making lifestyle changes like managing weight, staying physically active, quitting smoking, limiting alcohol intake, and managing stress. Keeping the mind active—pursuing continuing education opportunities, or learning a new skill, a new language, or how to play an instrument—may even aid with the formation of new neural networks in seniors’ brains.

Inconclusive studies

You’ve heard the saying “use it, or lose it”; this axiom may be applicable to the brain.

The 1995 MacArthur Study, one of largest longitudinal studies of the aging process, found that among the octogenarians in their study sample, those who were more physically and mentally active—frequently doing activities like crossword puzzles, reading, and playing bridge—also had the highest cognitive abilities. However, a study conducted by neuroscientists at University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University found no significant difference between the memory function of seniors who played “brain games” and the control group that didn’t play the games.

Still another recent study found that it’s not enough just to use your brain; you have to challenge it by learning something unfamiliar.

University of Texas at Dallas researchers randomly assigned 221 adults, ages 60 to 90, to participate in a particular type of activity for 15 hours a week for a three-month period. Some were assigned to learn a new skill — digital photography, quilting, or both. Others were told to engage in more commonplace activities at home, like listening to classical music and doing crossword puzzles. And some seniors were assigned to a group that focused on social interactions, field trips, and entertainment.

At the end of the study, the researchers discovered that the seniors who were in the group that learned new skills showed quantifiable improvements in memory, as compared to those who engaged in the non-demanding mental activities at home or the purely social group.

So, while the research is thus far inconclusive on this topic, it appears that the most beneficial mental stimulation may involve learning new information or skills, rather than just recalling what we already know.

And this stands to reason. Think of the brain as being like a computer. Learning something new—like a new language or skill—stimulates the brain and helps form new neural pathways. It’s sort of like adding new software or a new hard drive to a computer, increasing its functional and memory capacity. By comparison, activities like trivia or crossword puzzles simply require you call upon data that already exists in the computer that is your brain.

Gaming for the senior set

Video and computer games are getting increasingly popular among seniors. Entertainment Software Association research from 2018 found that a quarter of people over the age of 50 play video games on a regular basis—a number that is trending upward.

If you’re a senior who is interested in diving into the gaming world with the goal of improving your brain health, again, games that teach new information—versus recalling data you already know—are believed to be best. However, there are also many fun games that get your body moving, offering the added benefit of improving your physical fitness, balance, and cardiovascular health (which is also good for your brain!).

Computer games and apps for smartphones/tablets

There are more and more computer-based games, as well as apps that can be downloaded to a smartphone or tablet (such as an iPad), that have educational value, which may be beneficial for seniors’ brains.

For example, programs like Rosetta Stone, and games such as Lingo Arcade, Influent, and MindSnacks can help you learn a new language, and Rocksmith can teach you how to play the guitar. If you’re interested in learning how to do computer programming, CodeMonkey will educate you on the basics of coding languages like HTML5 and JavaScript.

History buffs may enjoy games like Crusader King or Civilization VI, which combine strategic thinking with history lessons. There are even flight simulator games that can teach you how to fly an airplane!

Gaming consoles

There are numerous options when it comes to gaming consoles, from Xbox to PlayStation to Nintendo. Many of the games for these systems provide purely entertainment value, and there’s nothing wrong with that! But there are also several games that are effective at getting your body moving while you have fun. As an added benefit, these gaming systems are enjoyable for people of all ages and can be a great activity for grandparents to share with their grandchildren.

You may have heard of a Wii (pronounced like “we”). It is an interactive gaming console sold by Nintendo, and it’s become all the rage in many senior living communities. The Wii Fit system bundle comes with a balance board “peripheral” (add-on equipment) that is used in many Wii games to track your movements, allowing the game to make more personalized recommendations.

Wii Fit can be used for activities like yoga, balance games, and aerobic and strength training exercises. The Wii Sports Resort game offers numerous virtual activities that can get seniors moving like golf, tennis, and bowling.

Virtual reality

The lines are increasingly getting blurred between gaming and virtual reality (VR). VR is where a user dons headphones and a special mask that displays various simulations of three-dimensional images that can be interacted with by the user in a seemingly real way.

Such VR technology is another high-tech tool that is being used in several new applications for seniors. There are VR uses for memory care patients, with programs designed to stimulate the brain, spur memories, or encourage anxiety reduction. There are also physical therapy and pain management applications for VR.

The future of gaming in senior living communities

It is likely that gaming will play a bigger role in the future of the CCRC industry. It’s even possible to imagine a time when CCRCs and other senior living communities might create on-site gaming centers where residents can enjoy some friendly competition with each other. Whether it’s innovative uses for Wii Fit exercise groups or a fierce Crusader King virtual battle, residents can benefit from the physical activity and/or mental stimulation offered by these games in a fun and social atmosphere (interpersonal interactions which offer their own health benefits for the seniors).

But the bottom line is that, based on current research, the types of games that are believed to be most beneficial for seniors’ cognitive health are those that involve educational elements. So instead of a word puzzle, sudoku, or fantasy-adventure game, chose one that will help you learn Italian, take up the virtual guitar, or try your hand at computer programming.

And also don’t underestimate the “old-fashioned” way of learning: from a book or in a classroom-type setting. Most CCRCs provide residents with opportunities for this type of continuing education on an array of topics. Some even have lifelong learning partnerships with nearby universities, allowing residents to audit college courses. It might not be as snazzy as the latest computer or video game, but this type of learning still offers seniors potential benefits to their brains.

 

 

The above content is legally licensed for use by myLifeSite.

 


Warm Weather Safety Tips for Seniors

Now that we are in the thick of summer, the increase in temperature has not only become more noticeable but it has also become something to take into serious consideration before heading outside, especially for seniors. Before you plan your next activity outdoors, follow some of the below tips to ensure you’re staying healthy and safe.

  1. Stay hydrated. Make sure that you drink plenty of water before, during, and after being exposed to high temperatures. Staying adequately hydrated will help reduce the chances of overheating and becoming dehydrated. Avoid alcohol or caffeinated drinks as these tend to dehydrate you more.
  2. Avoid direct sunlight. Try to find a shaded spot or a cover you can stay under while being outside in the heat. By avoiding direct sunlight, you’ll limit the potential of sunburn and again, overheating.
  3. Use Sunscreen. Using a sunscreen for both face and body with an SPF of 30 or higher is best to use when being exposed to sunlight. If you plan to be outside, make sure you apply a generous amount and keep reapplying as necessary.
  4. Dress accordingly. Wear light, breathable clothing while you’re outside in the heat. Fabrics such as linen or cotton will help keep you cool and comfortable.
  5. Air conditioning is your best friend. When you’re able to, try and stay in well air-conditioned areas as much as possible. If you don’t have air conditioning in your home, install a paddle fan or purchase a window unit to help circulate and regulate air flow.
  6. Know the signs and symptoms of dehydration and heat stroke. Knowing how to spot dehydration or heat stroke is important when being exposed to high temperatures for extended periods of time. If you happen to experience a headache, weakness, muscle cramping, dizziness or pass out, you may be dehydrated. As soon as possible, drink plenty of water or a drink with added electrolytes such as Gatorade. If you still don’t feel better, call 911. If you experience a temperature of 104 degrees or higher, red, dry or hot skin, a fast pulse, headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting or passing out, you may be having a heat stroke. Call 911 immediately and move to a shaded, cool area. Remove any additional layers of clothing and if possible, pour cold water on yourself. If you can safely swallow water or a sports drink, do so while waiting for emergency personnel to arrive.
  7. Check the weather every morning. By being proactive with how the weather and temperature may change throughout the day, you’ll be better able to plan your activities and in most cases, can save the cooler days for being outside.
  8. If you can move activities indoors, do so. By evaluating which activities that you originally had planned to participate in outside can be moved inside, you will limit your chances of overexposure to high temperatures, and in turn, keep yourself healthier, happier, and cooler!

Does Your Retirement Plan Overlook This Crucial Decision?

In a Forbes article from a few years back entitled “The Five Phases of Retirement Planning,” author Bernard Krooks discusses the various stages of retirement and steps that seniors should take to prepare for each. Krooks, an elder law attorney, defines “mid-retirement” as beginning at age 70, lasting as long as a person is still “able-bodied and high-functioning.” It is during this phase—when you are still in good health—that Krooks suggests considering what decisions you would want your family to take should you experience a significant decline in your mental or physical health.

The article goes on to describe the “late-phase” of retirement: the point after which a person’s health has begun to decline, and they require significant help in order to function on a day-to-day basis. Krooks notes that, “The hope is that by this point, all the planning done in prior years makes this transition as manageable and life-affirming as possible.”

A longer life means a longer retirement

The number of older Americans is rising rapidly as the Baby Boomers reach retirement. Also thanks to advances in modern medicine and technology, people are able to live longer. Think about this: In 1960, the life expectancy of a man in the U.S. was 66.6 years, and for a woman, it was 73.1 years, according to the CDC. As of 2015, those numbers had increased by nearly a decade: For men, average life expectancy was up to 76.3, and for women, it was up to 81.2, per the CDC. Today, a healthy 70-year-old in the U.S. can probably expect to live another 10 to 15 years on average—and many will live even longer—but rarely without the need for at least some degree of assistance, such as long-term care services.

Longer lifespans, combined with the potential need for extended long-term care, means that people must take an even more forward-thinking approach to planning for the later phases of retirement than in previous generations. Unfortunately, however, families and financial advisors too often fail to make a proactive, specific plan for this stage of life. The result is that most seniors and/or their families find themselves having to be reactive in addressing lifestyle and healthcare needs that may arise in the “late-phase” of retirement.

The scenario often goes like this: A senior has a significant health issue that develops suddenly. The spouse, adult children, or other family members must quickly shift into crisis-management mode, urgently researching care options, regardless of the flexibility of their personal schedule, their physical ability, or their emotional capacity to take on such a daunting task. Perhaps you experienced a similar situation with your own aging parents.

The most important choice in your retirement plan

If you are approaching (or are already in) the “mid-retirement” phase, it is the perfect time to make a plan for your “late-retirement” years—while you are still active and in control of your own decisions. Putting off such important decisions about your potential future needs could leave you and your loved ones facing tough, and often costly, situations down the road.

I would argue that one of the more important and complex decisions to consider in the retirement planning process is where to live. Admittedly, there are a lot of options in this day and age. Many seniors plan to stay in their existing home for as long as possible; others choose to relocate to a 55 and over community, while still others opt for a continuing care retirement community (CCRC, also called a life plan community), which offers residents a so-called continuum of care that addresses any assistance needs as they arise.

As you consider the many senior living options, keep in mind that paying for care and access to care are two very separate issues. For example, you may have long-term care insurance and/or you may have a substantial amount of savings and assets, all of which will help you pay for care. However, having adequate money does not address the other aspect of the issue: where and how your care needs will be provided if and when you require assistance.

This is one reason why a CCRC appeals to some people. After paying the entry fee, new CCRC residents typically move into the independent living area of the community, where they will usually have things like housekeeping, home maintenance, and one meal a day provided as part of their monthly fee. However, should health issues arise, the appropriate level of care services will be given to the resident within the same campus. It not only affords residents with the assistance and support they need, when they need it, it also provides them and their loved ones with a tremendous amount of peace of mind.

Making your plan

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a simple way to make a plan for every possible retirement scenario? While no one knows exactly what the future holds, you do have the power to prepare for many of the situations that commonly arise as we age.

I advise seniors to do these three things to help plan for the unknowns of their retirement years: 1) research and understand your senior living options, 2) consider the pros and cons of each, and 3) have detailed conversations with family members, medical providers, and other professional advisors (legal, financial, etc.) about your options and wishes. Taking these three steps can potentially help you and your loved ones avoid some difficult choices in the future.

 

 

The above article was written by Brad Breeding of myLifeSite and is legally licensed for use.