8 Activities to Keep Your Senior Loved One Mentally Sharp

Certified Senior Advisor (CSA)®
Assistive Technology Professional

It's pretty common among middle-aged people to forget their car keys, have someone’s name at the tip of their tongue but can’t remember it, or get the details of a memory wrong. If people in their 40s can be prone to such memory lapses, can you imagine how it must be for our elderly loved ones in their 70s or older?

senior couple working in garden to keep mentally sharp
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We all experience a change in our ability to remember things as we age. The older we get, the more those changes become apparent, although the degree of cognitive decline may vary from person to person. 

Still, while there’s no stopping aging, we can at least do something to help keep the brains of our senior loved ones as active as ever. 

Here are some activities that will help them stay mentally sharp, whether they’re still physically active or needing assisted home care

1. Engaging in Artistic Pursuits

If your senior loved one has an inclination for drawing, painting, or simply doodling, then let them engage in such activities. 

Art encourages creativity among us, and our seniors can benefit from the enhanced cognitive function that comes with using those creative impulses.

So, get your elderly loved one all the art materials they need, and let their artistic pursuits keep their brain in good shape.

2. Doing Jigsaw Puzzles

Putting together all the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle will always be fun, regardless of age.

Jigsaw puzzles also happen to improve short-term memory and visual-spatial reasoning and exercise both sides of the brain at once. 

It doesn’t matter if they’re working on a 1,000-piece image of Buckingham Palace or a 100-piece large piece puzzle of The Avengers. Once your elderly loved one gets started, they will be enjoying a fun way of exercising their brain.

3. Playing Cards

Playing card games is yet another excellent way of exercising the brain. Some card games require good memorization and short-term recall skills on the part of the player. 

Others help players exercise their ability to concentrate. 

All of these can help prevent cognitive decline in the elderly, so play bridge, gin rummy, poker, hearts, crazy eights, or even solitaire with your senior loved ones as often as you can.

4. Vocabulary-building

No one is ever too old to enrich their vocabulary. In fact, building one’s vocabulary can help the elderly exercise their brain some more, as vocabulary-related tasks involve more of its regions.

One way of building vocabulary is having your senior loved one write down an unfamiliar word they encounter on a notebook, look up its definition, and use it five times or more the following day.

5. Learning A Second Language

The ability to speak more than one language offers more benefits than we realize. Sure, being bilingual makes international travel less stressful, but did you know that it can also decrease the risk of developing Alzheimer’s?

Learning a new language also boosts cognitive functioning in older adults, as the entire process involves listening and internalizing new sounds, both of which stimulate the brain.

6. Cultivating New Hobbies and Skills

One great way of keeping the mind active is to learn new skills and cultivate new hobbies.

In a study published in The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, researchers put forth the idea that acquiring skills in later life can potentially reduce or delay cognitive changes that come with aging.

Your senior loved one should use that as a sign to pick up new skills or get new hobbies.

Learning to play a musical instrument will surely keep your senior’s mind busy, what with all the notes, chords, and scales that they need to commit to memory.

If your elderly loved one hasn’t used a laptop before, encouraging them to learn how it works gives them a new activity that challenges them mentally.

Cooking, bonsai growing, or even beekeeping are wonderful hobbies for seniors that can help an aging brain stay in shape.

7. Reading

If only for the discovery by researchers that reading books cuts a person’s chances of developing dementia by half, everyone should open a book every day.

Then again, any reading material will do, from articles in magazines to posts on websites. 

With the regular mental workout that reading provides, your senior loved one gets a chance to keep their brain strong even as they age.

8. Writing By Hand

We may be used to using keyboards when writing, but maybe we should consider picking up a pen or a pencil and writing by hand again as we all did in school.

According to a study featured in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, writing by hand helps stimulate the brain, specifically the areas that are associated with memory, thinking, and language.

Your senior loved one sure can use handwriting to put the memories they have in a journal, or even write some fiction to get those creative juices flowing.

Mental exercise will always be good for everyone regardless of age, but the seniors in our lives need them more than ever to stay sharp even as they grow older.

Combine these mental activities with good sleep, physical exercise, eating a healthy diet, and participating in social activities, and our elderly loved ones stand a good chance of enjoying a better quality of life in their older years.

About the Author


Melissa Andrews is the Content Marketing Strategist for Paradise Living Centers, an assisted living center for seniors with locations in Paradise Valley and Phoenix, Arizona. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking and going on hiking trips with her siblings and cousins.

No compensation was received for posting this article.

Certified Senior Advisor (CSA)®
Assistive Technology Professional

Scott Grant has spent more than 20 years serving seniors and the elderly in the home medical equipment industry. He has worked as a manufacturer's rep for the top medical equipment companies and a custom wheelchair specialist at a durable medical equipment (DME) provider in WV. He is father to 4 beautiful daughters and has three terrific grandkids. When not promoting better living for older adults, he enjoys outdoor activities including hiking and kayaking and early morning runs.

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