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Body & Mind – I

 My last few articles have focused on independence and mobility, specifically ways to be physically independent. Today I am initiating a series on ways to remain “mentally independent”. Memory loss is a taboo subject, but with the graying of America (and the world) it is a growing problem. It’s not uncommon for anyone to interchange the terms “memory loss” and “dementia”, people will know what you mean. Even though there are differences between these and Alzheimer’s, my purpose is not to embark on an in-depth study of these diagnoses, but rather explore ways seniors can stay mentally engaged with their surroundings and other people.

Based solely on my (limited) research and personal experience, memory loss is inevitable as we age. The degree to which that happens varies individually. I myself am experiencing issues with names of people and places as well as where I may have left my coffee cup. Most of my friends are also experiencing this. As defined by the Mayo Clinic, “Dementia is not a specific disease. Instead, dementia describes a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily functions.” For the moment, my “lapses” have not severely affected my ability to function or interact with others.

Dr. Lorne Label, a UCLA neurologist, reported in a 2009 study that dementia is one of the fastest growing diseases worldwide. He updated his findings in 2017, stating that there are “now an estimated 24 million people living with some form of dementia and by the year 2040 could increase to as many as 84 million”. He further states there are two risk factors for dementia, genetics, and aging, and neither of these factors can be controlled. While there is no “magic bullet” solution, there are several “disease-modifying therapies” in development that may offer temporary slowing of disease progression or even restore cognitive function. However, it may take years before these therapies are available to the general public.

We can’t control aging or genetics, but we can be proactive and take steps to slow down the progression of memory loss or dementia. Last year, Sarah Thomas, an Australian freelance journalist published for Our Pastimes an article on “brain games” for the elderly. These games all require a great deal of thought and strategy. While I agree that these “brain games” do help in slowing memory loss, I personally believe activities done in groups or one-on-one are equally beneficial. Being emotionally invested in someone or something forces us to be actively engaged, remembering details about the individual or activity.

Over the next several weeks, I will be sharing a broad array of games and activities that will help seniors be more alert and “mentally independent”. With each suggestion, I will add some examples, thoughts or ideas. Today I am exploring, being a volunteer, reading, and puzzles.


Volunteering is a great way to remain active and engaged in others. Places needing volunteers include hospitals, churches, museums and civic clubs.


I love to read and I know others do too. It can be a novel or scientific journal, but it forces me to concentrate, recall details and build empirically from beginning to end.


I grew up doing puzzles and now our family likes to piece together only those with 1000 or more pieces. The different sizes, shapes, and colors are challenging, forcing you to strategize, focus and follow a plan.

These are just three activities a senior can engage in to help remain mentally active. Next week I will explore several more. I hope you’ll join me.