6 ways senior living can support brain health

Excerpt: Studies show older adults can maintain and improve brain health through a lifestyle that includes regular physical activity, cognitive and social stimulation, and good nutrition. Retirement communities gives residents easy access to group exercise and mind-body activities, mind-fitness workshops, games and discussion groups in a social environment that promotes brain health. Residents can find meaning and purpose through volunteer programs and enjoy tasty, nutritious meals dining with friends.

A 2022 Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology study reported that for older adults, regular physical exercise strengthens links between separate brain areas*, known as functional brain network connectivity (FNBC). This improved brain connectivity enables older adults to think and process information more effectively in daily life. The imaging studies showed exercise improved brain health in seniors with and without cognitive impairment*.

Older adults are more likely to stick with an exercise routine if they participate in a group-based program with peers*, according to a University of British Columbia study. These complementary studies highlight two reasons why recreational programs in retirement communities are good for seniors’ brain health: neurological and psychological/motivational benefits.

Here are some other important ways in which retirement living can help to maintain and boost brain health:

  1. Keep sharp with cognitively stimulating activities. Older adults who regularly engaged in reading, writing letters, doing puzzles, and playing board games maintained better brain health and delayed dementia onset by 5 years*, reported a 2021 Neurology study. Retirement communities offer residents mind-fitness workshops and informal activities such as card games, discussion groups, and guest lectures to support brain health.
  2. Practice yoga or tai chi to calm your mind. Retirement living offers easy access to mind-body activities, such as yoga and tai chi, which calm the mind and body*, and help ease anxiety and depression, says Harvard Medical School. Brain imaging studies found people who practiced yoga regularly had a thicker cerebral cortex and hippocampus*, brain areas associated with information processing, learning and memory.
  3. Social engagement stimulates and protects the brain. A Journal of Gerontology study found older adults who reported frequent socializing had more robust gray matter in brain areas relevant to dementia*. Retirement communities offer many built-in social activities through recreational programs, themed social events, art classes, group outings and dining with friends.
  4. Keep moving to boost memory and verbal skills. Older adults who did six months of regular aerobic exercise improved verbal, memory, and thinking skills*, and performed at the level of someone four to six years younger on cognitive tests, reported a University of Calgary study. Residents of British retirement communities were 75% more physically active* than seniors who chose to age in place in their current home, according to an Association of Retirement Community Operators study.
  5. Nourish your brain with nutrient-dense food. People who follow healthy eating patterns, such as the Mediterranean and MIND diets*, maintain better cognitive health and have a lower dementia risk, says the National Institute on Aging. Chartwell Retirement Residences offers residents tasty, nutritious, and well-balanced meals in a warm, welcoming atmosphere that makes healthy eating easy.
  6. Engage in activities with purpose and meaning. A 2022 Ageing Research Reviews study found older adults who feel purpose and meaning in their lives* have a lower dementia risk. Through programs such as Chartwell’s H.O.P.E. (Helping Others for Purposeful Engagement), residents can give back by actively supporting a cause close to their hearts.

*The following sources provide references for this blog, in order of appearance:

  1. Healthing. "Exercise may improve brain health in older adults"(2022), Online: https://www.healthing.ca/partners/canadian-society-for-exercise-physiology/exercise-may-improve-brain-health-in-older-adults
  2. ScienceDirect. "The effect of physical exercise on functional brain network connectivity in older adults with and without cognitive impairment. A systematic review"(2021), Online: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0047637421000658?via%3Dihub
  3. The University of British Columbia. "Seniors stick with fitness routines when they work out together"(2018), Online: https://educ.ubc.ca/seniors-stick-with-fitness-routines-when-they-work-out-together/
  4. Medical Xpress. "Think about this: Keeping your brain active may delay Alzheimer's dementia 5 years"(2021), Online: https://medicalxpress.com/news/2021-07-brain-alzheimer-dementia-years.html#:~:text=Keeping%20your%20brain%20active%20in%20old%20age%20has,of%20Alzheimer%27s%20dementia%20by%20up%20to%20five%20years.
  5. Havard Health Publishing. "Yoga for better mental health"(2021), Online: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/yoga-for-better-mental-health
  6. Havard Health Publishing. "Yoga for better mental health"(2021), Online: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/yoga-for-better-mental-health
  7. verywellmind. "Social Engagement Promotes Brain Health in Older Adults, Research Shows"(2020), Online: https://www.verywellmind.com/social-engagement-promotes-brain-health-in-older-adults-5086881
  8. University of Calgary. "How aerobic exercise helps us keep our wits about us as we age"(2020), Online: https://www.ucalgary.ca/news/how-aerobic-exercise-helps-us-keep-our-wits-about-us-we-age
  9. myLifeSite. "Another Study Finds Potential Health Benefits to Living in a CCRC"(2020), Online: https://mylifesite.net/blog/post/another-study-finds-potential-health-benefits-to-living-in-a-ccrc/#:~:text=The%20study%20found%20that%3A%201%20CCRC%20residents%20tend,diet%20and%20other%20healthy%20lifestyle%20choices.%20More%20items
  10. National Institute on Aging. "What Do We Know About Diet and Prevention of Alzheimer's Disease?"(2019), Online: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-do-we-know-about-diet-and-prevention-alzheimers-disease
  11. ScienceDirect. "Positive psychological constructs and association with reduced risk of mild cognitive impairment and dementia in older adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis"(2022), Online: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1568163722000368?via%3Dihub