It’s not difficult to notice how your body ages over time. You develop wrinkles. You begin to lose your hair or it turns grey. Your knees start to hurt a little bit more. Some drooping of the skin begins to occur in certain places. Perhaps your eyesight and your hearing both begin to fade a bit. It’s pretty difficult not to notice these changes.
But it’s more difficult to see how growing older affects your mind. You might find that you are having to note significant events on the calendar because you’re having difficulty with your memory. Perhaps you miss important events or forget what you were doing more often. But regrettably, you may not even notice this gradual onset. For those who have hearing loss, the psychological effects can often worsen this decline.
Fortunately, there are some ways that you can exercise your brain to keep it sharp and healthy as you get older. Even better, these exercises can be downright fun!
The connection between cognition and hearing
There are numerous reasons why individuals will slowly lose their hearing as they age. This can result in a higher risk of cognitive decline. So, why does loss of hearing increase the risk of mental decline? Research reveals a number of hidden risks of hearing loss.
- When you’re dealing with neglected hearing loss, the part of your brain that processes sound starts to atrophy. Sometimes, it’s put to other uses, but in general, this is not great for your mental health.
- A feeling of social separation is often the outcome of untreated hearing loss. As a result of this lack of social connection, you can start to notice cognitive lapses as you disengage from the outside world.
- Mental health problems and depression can be the result of neglected hearing loss. And having these mental health problems can increase the corresponding danger of cognitive decline.
So is dementia the result of hearing loss? Well, indirectly. But neglected hearing loss can raise your risk of mental decline, up to and including dementia. Treating your hearing loss can considerably reduce those risks. And, enhancing your overall brain health (known medically as “cognition”) can decrease those risks even more. A little preventative management can go a long way.
Increasing mental function
So how do you approach giving your brain the workout it needs to strengthen mental function? Well, the great news is that your brain is like any other part of the body: you can always achieve improvement, it simply calls for a little exercise. So increase your brain’s sharpness by doing some of these fun activities.
Growing your own fruits and vegetables can be incredibly enjoyable all by itself (it’s also a tasty hobby). A unique mix of deep thought and hard work, gardening can also improve your cognitive function. This takes place for several reasons:
- Gardening releases serotonin which can ease the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
- Gardening requires modest 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.
- You need to think about what you’re doing as you’re doing it. You have to use planning skills, problem solving skills, and examine the situation. This gives your brain a lot of great practice.
The fact that you get healthy fruits and vegetables out of your garden is an additional bonus. Of course, not all gardens need to be focused on food. You can grow flowers, wild grasses, cacti, or anything your green thumb desires!
Arts and crafts
You don’t need to be artistically inclined to enjoy arts and crafts. You can make a simple sculpture out of popsicle sticks. Or maybe you can make a nice clay mug on a pottery wheel. It’s the process that matters with regard to exercising the brain, not so much the particular medium. That’s because arts and crafts (drawing, sculpting, building) tap into your imagination, your critical thinking skills, and your sense of aesthetics.
Arts and crafts can be good for your cognition because:
- It requires making use of fine motor skills. And while that might feel automatic, your brain and nervous system are truly doing lots of work. That kind of exercise can keep your mental functions healthier over the long haul.
- You need to process sensory input in real time and you will need to employ your imagination to do that. This requires a lot of brain power! There are a number of activities that activate your imagination in just this way, so it provides a unique type of brain exercise.
- You have to think about what you’re doing as you do it. You can help your cognitive process remain clear and flexible by participating in this type 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 relevant thing is keeping your brain sharp by engaging your imagination.
There are a lot of ways that swimming can help you stay healthy. Plus, it’s always enjoyable to jump into the pool (particularly when it’s so unrelentingly hot outside). And while it’s clearly good for your physical health, there are some ways that swimming can also be good for your cognitive health.
Your brain needs to be engaged in things like spatial awareness when you’re swimming in the pool. After all, you don’t want to collide with anybody else in the pool!
You also have to think about your rhythms. When will you need to come up to breathe when you’re under water? That sort of thing. This is still a good cognitive exercise even if it’s happening in the back of your mind. Plus, physical activity of any sort can really help get blood to the brain going, and that can be good at helping to slow mental decline.
Spending a little quiet alone time with your mind. Meditation can help calm down your thoughts (and calm your sympathetic nervous system too). These “mindfulness” meditation practices are made to help you focus on your thinking. As a result, meditation can:
- Improve your memory
- Improve your attention span
- Help you learn better
In other words, meditation can help present you with even more awareness of your mental and cognitive faculties.
Reading is great for you! And even more than that, it’s fun. A book can take you anywhere according to that old saying. In a book, you can travel everywhere, such as outer space, ancient Egypt, or the depths of the ocean. 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. In this way, reading activates a massive part of your brain. You’re forced to think a great deal and utilize your imagination when you read.
Consequently, reading is one of the most ideal ways to focus your thoughts. You have to use your memory to keep track of the story, your imagination to picture 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, so long as you devote some time each day reading and building your brainpower! And, for the record, audiobooks are essentially as effective as reading with your eyes.
Better your cognition by having your hearing loss managed
Even if you do every single thing correctly, untreated hearing loss can continue to increase your risks of cognitive decline. Which means, even if you swim and read and garden, you’ll still be struggling uphill, unless you manage your hearing loss.
When are able to have your hearing managed (usually because of a hearing aid or two), all of these enjoyable brain exercises will help boost your cognition. Improving your memory, your thoughts, and your social skills.
Is hearing loss a problem for you? Contact us today to make an appointment for a hearing test and reconnect to life!