This back-to-school season, local families are scrambling to prepare their children to head back to the classroom. But in busy times, senior experts urge us to remember our elderly loved ones who are often left out of the hustle and bustle, and can feel lonely, isolated and mentally stagnant. So, while Mom and Dad may have already filled their child’s backpack full of pencils and other school supplies, they may have forgotten to stuff one very important backpack – that of their aging parent.
That’s why Senior Helpers, one of the largest in-home senior care companies, with caregivers in your city, is helping local families create Senior “Back-to-School Backpacks” to keep elderly loved ones sharp and engaged. These backpacks are an easy, inexpensive way to keep seniors involved in activities that will keep their minds and memories sharp. According to the Mayo Clinic, seniors who engage in cognitive activities, play games or participate in crafts, have a 30-50 percent decrease in memory loss compared to those who did not participate in these activities. In fact, studies show that even the “diseased brain” has the ability to make new neurological connections when kept active.
Families become so busy they can forget to include their elderly loved ones in all the activities. Studies show that without stimulating activity, seniors can lose memory, feel depressed and isolated and have a higher risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. That’s why these Senior “Back-to-School Backpacks” are a fun, easy way to keep the elderly engaged. If you can’t be there to join your elderly loved one in these activities, hire a caregiver who can take the load off you.
Experts suggest activities must not only be fun but give seniors a sense of accomplishment. Backpack items should include:
• Hand-held computer games (such as Connect Four or Scrabble)
• Books, magazines or crossword puzzles
• Do-It-Yourself birdhouse kit
• Fake flowers to arrange
• Deck of cards
• Etch-a-sketch (draw or play games such as Hang Man, Tic-Tac-Toe, etc.)
• Paint by numbers (model cars or other objects)
• Gardening seeds
Senior “Back-to-School Backpack” for those with dementia or Alzheimer’s:
Research shows seniors should play these games for stimulation, not for competition, and should be enjoyed by a group of two or three. Whenever possible, experts suggest children (or a caregiver) play with the older adults. Recommended games include:
• Bingo – studies show this game is highly therapeutic for those with cognitive disorders. People in the study performed slightly better on cognitive tests and showed an increase in alertness and awareness hours after testing (American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementia).
• Smart Brain – This game provides stimulation to cognitive facilities like attention and memory (Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry). The study shows this game improved cognition in a group of elderly people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
• Nintendo’s, Brain Age – originally intended to improve the working of the healthy brain but it’s also effective therapy for those with dementia.
• Qwirkle - it can be played in many ways and by people at different stages of Alzheimer’s. People in early stages can play by the rules or as a game of strategy. Later it can be used for color and pattern matching.
• Board games, such as Monopoly – board games with a colorful playing surface and objects that can be handled (such as dice, money, cards, etc.) are preferred.
Games at all levels – low tech to high tech – can help dementia patients. The Senior “Back-to-School Backpack” is one initiative in our dementia and Alzheimer’s program called Senior Gems Program. We stress seniors should decide which games they want to play, whether they’re games they played as a child or games they played with their own children. This stimulates familiar memories, which keep the brain sharp.
Other Strategies to Stay Mentally Sharp With Age:
• Control cholesterol problems and high blood pressure – Cholesterol problems and high blood pressure can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke, which researchers say may contribute to the development of certain types of dementia.
• Don’t smoke – Studies reveal that heavy smoking during middle age can double the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia two decades later.
• Don’t drink excessively – Heavy drinking (more than three to five drinks per day) is associated with a higher risk of dementia and cognitive impairment. Moderate drinkers are 23 percent less likely to develop dementia (moderate means two drinks/day for men, 1 drink/day for women).
• Exercise regularly – Regular physical activity is believed to help maintain blood flow to the brain and reduce your risk of high blood pressure, often associated with the development of dementia.
• Eat a healthy diet – Those who eat plenty of vegetables and fatty fish and keep away from saturated fats are thought to have a lower risk of cognitive decline.
Peter Ross, CEO and co-founder of Senior Helpers, an in-home senior care company with a local office of highly trained caregivers specializing in dementia and Alzheimer’s care. To learn more about how to care for your senior loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s through the Senior Helpers’ Senior Gems Program, please visit our website at www.seniorhelpers.com. There, you can also request a complimentary Senior Gems DVD.