Actively Aging: Maintaining the Mind

Eau Claire (WQOW) – November’s “Actively Aging” segment focused on how seniors can maintain a healthy mind.

The mind is like a muscle, it’s as strong as you make it, but like any part of the body, it’s not immune to the effects of age.

“For most of us, as we get older, our memory and our brain function becomes a little bit less acute and we’re probably not as sharp as we were when we were younger,” said Dr. Donn Dexter, a consultant in neurology at Mayo Clinic Health System.

Dr. Dexter said the decline starts after age 30, but it’s most noticeable after 60.

“Our brain tends to shrink over time,” Dr. Dexter said, “And what’s responsible for that is cell loss. So as you lose cells, the brain shrinks.”

So how do you combat the inevitable? Dr. Dexter said the three most important things are exercise, sleep (he recommends, eight hours of uninterrupted sleep each night) and a healthy diet. He recommends the Mediterranean Diet or one that includes lots of fruits, vegetables and fish. After that, look for ways to engage the mind.

“Reading and exploring things in life,” Dr. Dexter said, “Learning more than one language seems to be protective of Alzheimer’s Disease, protecting your brain from toxins and poisons like alcohol and tobacco and protecting your brain from trauma.”

Al Ludwig and Erna Kelly are part of a group that meets regularly to study German at the L.E. Phillips Senior Center. It’s a perfect example of one way to keep the mind sharp.

“This keeps me engaged, we meet twice a week,” Ludwig said.

“It keeps my mind going,” Kelly said, “It helps me make connections with English I hadn’t thought about.”

They’re engaging their minds, but also engaging with each other.

“One thing I see with people,” Dr. Dexter said, “When you start to have problems with your memory you withdraw, because you don’t want to be embarrassed because you can’t remember somebody’s name and tell the same story twice, but withdrawing is probably not good for us.”

Even when memory and other mind matters slow, there’s one thing that needs age to grow!

“Like wisdom, your judgment might be better,” Dr. Dexter said.

“I do see things with more context and depth and texture because I have layers of history behind them,” Kelly said.

The L.E. Phillips Senior Center offers a variety of programs and classes, including social groups like book clubs, or classes on things like computer skills. They also offer fitness classes, and provide opportunities for playing cards and other games. Their website has a full list of things to do that focus on keeping the mind and body healthy. 

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