Caregivers are usually healthy. They might not be lethargic and already actively engaged in physical exercise. Hence, this article will shed light on the importance of exercise to maintain brain health.
A caregiver has a lot to think about when making the decision to care for an elderly parent. The long-term home caregiver typically sacrifices free time, career, and family obligations to accommodate the elderly person’s needs. She may also risk memory loss from engaging in the same routine day after day.
The Pitfalls of Being a Caregiver to an Aging Parent
The person who has never been a caregiver for more than a few days or couple weeks at a time has no idea what she is getting into. The majority of caregivers are women; but whatever the gender, caring for an elderly person 24/7 for months and years is a physically grueling and emotionally exhausting ordeal.
The demanding multiple roles of a full-time home caregiver require a significant level of academic intelligence. A caregiver needs good organizational skills, must demonstrate effective communication skills, and must be able to comprehend basic concepts in a variety of specialty areas – eldercare law and geriatric medicine, just to name two. The majority of a caregiver’s duties, however, include such basics as fixing meals, washing clothes, and being an attentive personal care attendant.
The elderly person with Alzheimer’s disease or some form of dementia demands almost constant caregiver supervision. The parent with advanced dementia may argue constantly, may be prone to wandering, or may even be combative. A caregiver who has no family support or who has no reliable respite plan can quickly become mentally and physically burned out. Stress, worry, depression, and weeks of constant fatigue take a toll on the body, wearing down the internal organs including the brain.
How a Caregiver Can Maintain Healthy Brain Function
A conscientious caregiver may follow a nutritional diet and may exercise religiously to keep her body in good shape. Diet and exercise alone are not enough to prevent the degeneration of brain cells. After months and years of performing daily routine caregiver duties, an otherwise sharp and intellectual brain may still deteriorate – may suffer memory loss – unless it is kept healthy with new challenges.
Games of strategy and word puzzles offer a challenge, and so does reading the newspaper every day. Unfortunately, once new neurons form from such activities, the formation stops. The suggestions below are just a few ways a caregiver can stimulate brain function and the formation of neurons in an effort to prevent memory loss:
- Expand and learn new concepts. The caregiver who has mastered word games might try learning a new language or tackling logic puzzles.
- Join an online debate or learn how to actively get involved in the community to help an environmental cause.
- A gardener can sharpen her brain by learning new methods for cultivating plants, joining a gardening discussion with experts, or learning new techniques such as grafting or cross-pollination.
- Learn to read music and invest in a keyboard. Experienced musicians can learn to play a new instrument.
- Move out of the comfort zone and try something altogether different. If respite time is available, try ballroom dance lessons. The exercise not only relieves stress, but learning new dance steps also activates brain motor centers that form neural connections.
- Learn new photography skills. Experiment with the manual mode instead of using automatic. Rather than shoot flowers, try still life or candid shots of people.
- Love to cook? Try making a few gourmet dishes for a change or cook an ethnic dinner and invite other family members. Try a difficult recipe that involves learning new cooking or baking skills.
- If respite time permits, sign up for a college course. Try an academic class, learn the basics of home repair, or take on a course in self-fulfillment.
- Instead of a routine exercise workout at home, try something new. There are workout programs online, on television, and tons of books and videos on the subject. Example: Learn how to lift weights or take up Nordic walking.
- If writing is something enjoyable, then why not try composing articles. Avoid getting in a rut with familiar ideas and try topics that require research. Go one step further and find an online site to submit written material and make a little money on the side.
Get Creative With Thought Provoking Exercises
The same familiar routine day after day may be comforting to an aging parent but can result in boredom for the caregiver son or daughter. Plan ahead before taking on the role of caregiver to an elderly loved one. Make it a point to learn new concepts to reduce the risk of memory loss. Knowledge builds self-esteem, and engaging in thought-provoking activities reduces stress and clears the mind.
Proper nutrition and adequate exercise promote a strong body, but a key element to better mental health is an active mind. There are countless ways to stimulate thinking and memory. Trying something different may even open doors to new opportunities – a plus for the caregiver that might have to start a new job or find a new career once she has fulfilled the caregiver role.