Although there is no fail-safe way to prevent memory loss, there are steps that you can take to keep your mind active. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “mentally challenging activities, such as learning a new skill, adopting a new hobby or engaging in formal education, may have short and long-term benefits for your brain.”
Step Out of Your Comfort Zone
In recent years, scientists have discovered that learning new skills is especially helpful in the fight against memory loss. As cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman explained in a 2014 NPR broadcast, the process of learning new skills strengthens connections between parts of the brain, and challenging activities can strengthen entire networks in the brain.
This means that seniors should go beyond dusting off old hobbies into the realm of the unfamiliar in order to get the greatest benefit. “When you are inside your comfort zone you may be outside of the enhancement zone,” said psychological scientist Denise Park, the lead researcher of a 2013 study on older adults and cognitive functioning.
In that study, the group of adults who improved their memory the most learned new skills, which required active engagement, like digital photography or quilting. If these pursuits do not interest you, there are plenty of other challenging options. Below are some suggestions:
• Learn a musical instrument. Perhaps you studied an instrument as a child. Why not pick a different type this time around? If you played a woodwind, try a string instrument, and vice versa. With so many options to choose from, you are bound to find a course of musical study that appeals to you.
• Learn a challenging game. The same principle applies to games. If you already play checkers, then try chess. Have you tried Mah Jongg, Bridge, Gin Rummy, Backgammon, or Scrabble? Choose one of these that you have not tried before and that intrigues you.
• Try a new kind of exercise. Perhaps you are a champion Jazzerciser, but have you tried Zumba? Is it time to take up golf? What about swimming? If you have physical difficulties, do not be discouraged. These days, there are classes available for all kinds of skill levels and abilities.
• Start a new craft. Some of the participants in the study referenced earlier tried quilting. If quilting does not pique your interest, consider knitting, ceramics, painting, needlepoint, origami, or jewelry design. These are only a few of the many crafts you can learn.
• Learn a new language. Parli italiano? Sprechen sie Deutsch? What language have you always wanted to learn but never had the opportunity to do so? This is the perfect time to start. Alternatively, learn a computer programming language, and impress your grandkids with your technological savvy.
The above suggestions are hardly exhaustive. It is time for you to be creative and select a new skill that appeals to you. By taking this step, you may be improving your memory, while also having fun.