4 simple tips to include powerful brain fitness in your programming

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4 simple tips to include powerful brain fitness in your programming

Posted on February 22, 2011

Managing a wellness and life enrichment strategy for your community should always include a strong and multi-level brain fitness component. But how do you make sure all residents benefit from your brain fitness programming? Here are four easy tips to increase efficiency of your activities:

Be ready to inform:

Residents and seniors in general are often thirsty for news about brain health and how to remain in the best shape possible.
Age-related cognitive decline is normal and usually occurs gradually, starting at about age 30. As you age, your senses such as vision and hearing begin to weaken, slowing down the signals they send to the brain, which then slows the brain’s information processing. The good news is that contrary to common wisdom, recent studies have shown that new brain cells are created throughout our entire life span. Physical exercise, good nutrition and cognitive effort can increase blood flow to the brain, which helps to enhance cognitive reserves.

Which leads us to our second piece of advice: to have a powerful brain fitness approach to programming, activities need to address different levels. They need to range in difficulty and also in their objectives and functions addressed. Gary Small, director of the UCLA Center on Aging explains: “Several studies have shown that exercising the brain with mental aerobics not only can improve cognitive performance scores but also may delay brain degeneration.” But achieving brain fitness actually requires more than mental exercises. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, being physically active, eating a healthy diet and maintaining social relationships are also components of promoting brain health. As people age, more and more thought processes fall into the category of routine and less effort is required for thought in everyday lives. Although Sudoku and crossword puzzles are good ways to improve some cognitive functions, just like anything else that is done frequently, the brain adopts routines and strategies for solving these problems after a while. For example, an innovative new activity could be to surf the InternetResearch shows that our brains literally rewire in response to new stimulation. And when it comes to computer use, Internet activity may stimulate and possibly improve brain function, according to scientists at UCLA.

When building a brain fitness approach to programming, it is important to include socialization:
Recent studies have shown that social interaction and bonding opportunities help against dementia. “Social activity has long been recognized as an essential component of healthy aging, but now we have strong evidence that it is also related to better everyday functioning and less disability in old age,” said lead researcher Bryan James, Ph.D. in a study that will be published in the April 2011 issue of the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences.

Interestingly enough, researchers at Rush University in Chicago have also come up with the conclusion that older adults who remain as physically and socially active as possible have a better chance of not becoming disabled in their elderly years.

Activities therefore should allow for small and large group to come together. The best timing for this would be after morning exercise.

Finally, to really address each resident effectively, part of the brain fitness program needs to have a section designed for each individual’s needs and should adapt to changing abilities.
For these, it is important to let the person opt into the program and to set goals that are personalized and achievable to provide ongoing feedback and motivation. Similar to physical fitness programs, brain fitness programs that are too difficult will be abandoned, yet if they are too easy the brain won’t make gains and may become bored with the activities.
The key skills which are important for everyday function, but which can decline with age include: eye-hand coordination, short-term memory, visual scanning, divided attention, reaction time, awareness, inhibition, time estimation, shifting attention, visual perception, spatial perception, naming, working memory, and planning.