Part 2. Minding Your Mental Health
Just as important as your physical health in your later years is your mental health—your attitude, your mood, your resilience, your ability to get through tough times with equanimity. Keeping alert and mentally sharp is something we all hope to do. The idea of losing any of our cognitive abilities makes us uneasy. The good news is that is much we can do to keep our brains in good working order. Cognitive decline is not inevitable. According to the book, Brain Aging: Models, Methods, and Mechanisms, some older adults retain excellent cognitive function well into their 70s and 80s and perform as well as or even better than younger adults. the reason may be neuroplasticity—the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. That means we are making new brain cells and connections even in old age.
- To delay or avoid those senior moments and age-related memory loss: drink more water; practice mindfulness; and eat more plant foods, healthy fats and Omega-3s, and less saturated fat and processed foods.
- Prolonged stress can increase inflammation and cortisol, both of which are linked to short-term memory loss. As Covid-19 begins to ebb, your stress level may diminish as well.
- Some good news if you are sixty-five or older: People in your age group suffered significantly lower rates of anxiety, depression, and stress-related disorders than younger folks during the pandemic.
- Yes, 2020 has been a tough year, and so far, 2021 isn’t winning any prizes either. So, how well did you handle the stress of these past months? Did you find things you enjoy to keep you occupied? Did you try new activities, such as knitting or painting or learning to communicate with friends and family with Facetime or Zoom? These questions are a gentle nudge to do a little self-checkup on your coping skills.
- Stay in touch with people. Solitude is lovely, but isolation can be lonely. If you are computer literate, you can communicate with friends and family on social media, Facetime, Skype, Google Hangouts, or Zoom, which is the newest vehicle for reaching out to touch somebody.
- Feed your creative side. Dust off your paints or gel pens and create art, lose yourself in sewing or knitting, practice piano, plant a garden, keep a journal, or write letters to the editor or to your senators and representatives.
- Keep your mind active and involved in learning new things.