As your body gets older, it’s not hard to notice the changes. You develop wrinkles. Your hair turns gray (or falls out). Your joints begin to stiffen. Some sagging of the skin starts to take place in certain places. Maybe you start to notice some fading of your hearing and eyesight. These signs are tough to miss.
But the impact aging has on the mind isn’t always so evident. You might notice that your memory isn’t as good as it used to be and that you have to begin writing significant dates on your calendar. Perhaps you find yourself spacing out more and missing significant events. But sadly, you may not even recognize this gradual onset. For those who have hearing loss, the psychological effects can frequently exacerbate this decline.
As you get older, there are, fortunately, some exercises you can do to help your brain stay clear. And the good news is, these exercises can be utterly fun!
The link between cognition and hearing
Most individuals will slowly lose their hearing as they get older (for a wide variety of reasons). This can result in a higher risk of mental decline. So, why does hearing loss increase the danger of cognitive decline? There are several hidden risk factors according to research.
- When you’re dealing with untreated hearing loss, the portion of your brain that processes sound begins to atrophy. The brain may assign some resources, but overall, this isn’t great for mental health.
- Neglected hearing loss can easily lead to a sense of social separation. Because of this lack of social interaction, you can start to detect cognitive lapses as you disengage from the outside world.
- Neglected hearing loss can also lead to depression and other mental health concerns. And having these mental health issues can increase the corresponding danger of cognitive decline.
So, can hearing loss develop into dementia? Well, not directly. But neglected hearing loss can increase your risk of cognitive decline, up to and including dementia. Those risks, however, can be significantly decreased by getting hearing loss treated. And, boosting your overall brain health (known medically as “cognition”) can lessen those risks even more. A little preventative treatment can go a long way.
How to enhance cognitive function
So, how can you be sure to increase your mental function and give your brain the workout it needs? Well, as with any other part of your body, the amount and kind of exercise you do go a long way. So here are some enjoyable ways to exercise your brain and boost your sharpness.
Growing your own fruits and vegetables can be very enjoyable all by itself (it’s also a delicious hobby). A unique combination of deep thinking and hard work, gardening can also enhance your cognitive function. Here are several reasons why:
- Anxiety relief and a little bit of serotonin. This can help keep mental health problems like depression and anxiety in check.
- Gardening requires moderate physical exercise. Improved blood flow is good for your brain and blood flow will be increased by moving buckets around and digging in the ground.
- As you’re working, you will have to think about what you’re doing. You have to use planning skills, problem solving skills, and examine the situation. This gives your brain a great deal of great practice.
The reality that you get healthy vegetables and fruits out of your garden is an additional bonus. Of course, not all gardens have to be focused on food. You can grow flowers, wild grasses, cacti, or anything your green thumb wishes!
Arts and crafts
Arts and crafts can be appreciated by anybody no matter the artistic ability. You can make a simple sculpture using popsicle sticks. Or maybe you can make a nice clay mug on a pottery wheel. It’s the process that counts with regard to exercising the brain, not so much the particular medium. Because your critical thinking skills, imagination, and sense of aesthetics are cultivated by doing arts and crafts (sculpting, painting, building).
Arts and crafts can be good for your cognitive ability because:
- It requires the use of fine motor skills. And while that may feel automatic, your brain and nervous system are truly doing lots of work. That type of exercise can keep your cognitive functions healthier over the long haul.
- You have to utilize your imagination and process sensory inputs in real time. This involves a great deal of brain power! There are a few activities that activate your imagination in just this way, so it offers a unique kind of brain exercise.
- You have to stay focused on what you’re doing while you do it. You can help your mental process remain clear and flexible by participating in this kind of real time thinking.
Your talent level doesn’t really matter, whether you’re painting a work of art or doing a paint-by-numbers. The most important thing is keeping your mind sharp by stimulating your imagination.
There are a lot of ways that swimming can help you stay healthy. Plus, a hot afternoon in the pool is always a great time. But swimming isn’t only good for your physical health, it also has mental health advantages.
Any time you’re in the pool, you need to think a lot about spatial relations when you’re swimming. After all, you don’t want to smash into anybody else in the pool!
Your mind also has to be aware of rhythms. When will you need to come up for a breath of air when you’re under water? That kind of thing. Even if this type of thinking is going on in the background of your mind, it’s still great cognitive exercise. And mental decline will advance more slowly when you take part in physical activity because it helps get more blood to the brain.
Spending a little quiet alone time with your mind. Meditation can help settle your thoughts (and calm your sympathetic nervous system at the same time). These “mindfulness” meditation techniques are made to help you concentrate on your thinking. As a result, meditation can:
- Help you learn better
- Improve your memory
- Improve your attention span
In other words, meditation can help give you even more awareness of your mental and cognitive faculties.
Reading is great for you! And it’s also really fun. A book can take you anywhere according to that old saying. The bottom of the ocean, the distant past, outer space, you can travel anywhere in a book. When you’re following along with a story, manifesting landscapes in your imagination, and mentally creating characters, you’re using a lot of brain power. A large portion of your brain is engaged when you’re reading. You’re forced to think quite a bit and utilize your imagination when you read.
Consequently, one of the best ways to improve the mind is by reading. You have to use your memory to keep track of the story, your imagination to visualize what’s going on, and you get a sweet dose of serotonin when you complete your book!
What you read doesn’t really make a difference, fiction, non-fiction, science fiction, as long as you allocate time every day reading and strengthening your brainpower! And, for the record, audiobooks are basically as effective as reading with your eyes.
Treat your hearing loss to improve cognitive risks
Even if you do every single thing correctly, untreated hearing loss can continue to increase your risks of mental decline. But if you don’t have your hearing loss treated, even if you do all of these things, it will still be a difficult fight.
Your social skills, your thinking, and your memory and cognition will get better once you have your hearing loss addressed (usually with hearing aids).
Is hearing loss a problem for you? Call us today to make an appointment for a hearing exam and reconnect to life!