On occasion I hear a song that I immediately recognize and quickly find myself singing along. Then I pause for a moment to recall the name of the group that I once knew so well and can’t remember it. Memory can be fickle, with some facts easily recalled while important details remain stubbornly hidden from view.
As we age, our memories can become more difficult to recall. And apparently retirement living does not help our cause. Studies show that the earlier people retire, the more quickly their memories decline. According to the Center on Longevity at Stanford University, “work provides an important component of the environment that keeps people functioning optimally.”
But many people do not want to continue working. Isn’t that the whole appeal of retirement? Here are some ways to stay mentally sharp without going to work every day.
1. Regular exercise. Exercise creates a stronger and faster brain, according to the Alzheimer’s Association in Central Florida. Physical exercise also stimulates new brain cell growth. The trick is to keep at it on a consistent basis rather than on again and off again. To motivate yourself, find something you enjoy doing or someone you enjoying doing it with.
2. Avoid stress. Adverse life events that cause you stress may be one trigger of Alzheimer's disease, according to a recent study. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich have shown that stress promotes brain changes that are also seen in Alzheimer's disease.
3. Stay socially active. Retirees who are no longer working need to find a replacement for the interaction they had with co-workers. Sitting alone at home will not help your mental acuity. You need to stay engaged, involved, and challenged. Local senior centers, regular bridge games, book clubs, or a daily walk with a friend can all help to keep your mind active.
4. Puzzles and games. The results are mixed about the ability of crossword puzzles, Sudoku, and other mind games to improve mental sharpness. Some people view the concentrating and calculating these games entail as work outs for your mind. One mind game I use is consciously remembering the names of characters in the books I read. When I next pick up the book, I run through the list before starting to read and I have gotten better at it over time. The trick is to keep trying different things and introducing new challenges to improve your mental acuity. Crossword puzzles get easier if that is all you do, so throw in a little variety to challenge your brain.
There are things we can do to aid our mental sharpness and improve memory as we age. Make a game of it and remember to play often.
Dave Bernard is not yet retired but has begun his due diligence to plan for a satisfying retirement. With a focus on the non-financial aspects of retiring, he shares his discoveries and insights on his blog Retirement–Only the Beginning.