The vast majority of Americans have been touched by dementia in one way or another. In fact, the Alzheimer’s Association reports that over 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease — and experts predict that number will almost triple by 2050. Ask any older adult, and he or she will tell you that the fear of developing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia is very real.
If you’re like me, you do what you can to reduce your risk of developing these conditions: You eat well, don’t smoke and keep your brain active with everything from podcasts to Sudoku. There’s one area of brain training that you may be overlooking, though, and that’s your attitude about aging itself.
The Link Between Negativity and Dementia
In 1996, a groundbreaking study found that people who viewed aging as a negative thing demonstrated a noticeable decline in the size of their hippocampus, a change that’s very closely linked to Alzheimer’s disease. The study, published in “Psychology and Aging,” followed a group of almost 160 participants for decades, asking them various survey questions and conducting 10 years’ worth of MRIs.
Later studies have found similar results: older adults who report negative attitudes about aging are more likely to have the telltale signs of Alzheimer’s disease in their brains, namely tangles and plaques.
My takeaway from all of this research? We need to change the way we think about growing older, and there’s no time to waste.
2 Fun Ways To Maintain a Positive Attitude About Aging
Keeping a healthy outlook on life as you grow older is vital to your overall health. Here are two of my favorite ways to boost your spirits about being a senior.
It’s tempting to become more reclusive as you age, especially if you live with chronic health conditions that make mobility more difficult now than it was at age 30 or if you’ve lost a partner to death or divorce.
The thing is, staying part of your community, any community, is great for your mental health. While regular trips out and about are ideal, connecting with friends and acquaintances online provides plenty of wellness benefits, too.
Stumped for ways to get social? Give these a try:
Meet friends for a regular dinner and/or drinks date
Join or start a book club
Get involved at your church
Stump for a political candidate
Volunteer at your public library
Take an exercise class
Take an art class
While meeting new people and ditching your pajama pants can be hard, it’s important that you do. By putting yourself out there, you’re boosting your brain health!
Keep Your Stress Low
If you’re like most older adults, you’re enjoying a decreased level of responsibility. Your kids are grown. Maybe you’re retired or only working part-time. In short, you likely have more time to yourself than ever.
Embrace it! Instead of feeling isolated because your sons live across the country or you no longer go to the office every morning, feel liberated, and use that free time to slow down and do what you love. You’ve earned it.
It’s also important. Doing what you enjoy, whether that’s painting, taking a long walk or spending the whole day watching Tom Hanks movies, keeps your stress low. Lowering your stress lowers your risk of developing an incredibly wide array of chronic conditions and illnesses, including dementia.
When your stress level rises, which it’s bound to do from time to time, it’s important that you release that stress healthily. Meditation is certainly one way to do that, but tapping into your favorite iPad game and enjoying the fact that nobody’s going to ask you to wash a basketball uniform is good, too.
Growing older is no picnic, but it is a feast of wisdom and surprises. Lower your dementia risk and improve your overall health by learning to roll with the changes and focus on the perks of being a senior.