Previously, we discussed emotional, spiritual, social, and physical health - all are necessary if a person wishes to age well. There are two more aspects of wellness to explore - intellectual and functional. Today we examine intellectual health.
Intellectual wellness refers to making wise cognitive health choices, continued intellectual growth, and creativity in life. Mental wellness includes ongoing learning, problem-solving, improving verbal skills, keeping abreast of social and political issues, and reading books, magazines, and newspapers.
Seven Ways to Improve Intellectual Wellness
While there are many sources, the following website offers ways to improve one’s intellectual wellness. The suggestions fit for me.
1. Read. Pick up a classic novel or the latest on the bestseller list. Have a topic you’ve wanted to pursue. Order a book or download one to read at your leisure. You can even borrow digital books from the library.
I began reading when I was eight years old after discovering the library and have never stopped. The only difference is that now I read on my Kindle.
2. Journal. Write down your thoughts, keep a daily journal of activities and events, or begin recording stories from your life. Writing is a way to engage your mind and express yourself.
I began writing in my journal 20 years ago. Writing has helped me through many tough times.
3. Play brain games. Grab a pencil and try your hand at Sudoku or a crossword puzzle. Go online to find a large selection of challenging games such as Mastermind, Crime Scene, trivia, checkers, and chess.
As a child, I played checkers with my Dad. I have done crossword and jigsaw puzzles for years. Now I play word games online.
4. Experience the arts. Attend or participate in cultural events online. Music, the arts, dance, and other cultural activities can help express creativity and stimulate your brain in new ways.
Music and art are my favorite hobbies.
5. Talk it out. Bring up a current event for a discussion with friends online, over the phone, or in person. Be open-minded, and realize that even if you disagree with their points of view, you expand your mind by having lively discussions and hearing new ideas.
I discuss current events daily with a couple of people.
6. Attend an online class. Sign up for virtual classes through the local community college or an online learning platform. Coursera, edX.org, or free online courses offered by Harvard University are possibilities. Lifelong learning is key to keeping the brain active and healthy.
I am a lifelong learner and have taken many virtual courses. Two of my favorite sites are Udemy and Great Courses. I earned my PH.D. online and am currently learning Spanish thru a free Duolingo course.
7. Reduce stress. Stress plays a role in both our physical and mental health. Some activities that reduce mental stress include meditation, light exercise, and spending time with a pet or enjoying the outdoors.
I do light exercise, have two rescue cats, and enjoy being outdoors, but that is not enough. Stress remains a problem.
Think of it this way.
Have you any good ideas for maintaining intellectual health? Please share.
The Devastation of Dementia
If a person loses intellectual wellness, a worst case outcome can be dementia.
According to the UK Alzheimer’s Association
Your risk of developing dementia is a combination of your genes, lifestyle, environment, and age. We cannot change our age or genes, but some research has found that even if you carry a risk gene, there are still things you can do to reduce your risk.
And the Alzheimer’s Association of Canada website says
While genetics play a role in developing some forms of dementia, like young onset Alzheimer's disease, most people living with dementia do not have a strong, known genetic link. For example, less than 5% of all people living with Alzheimer’s disease inherited it through a family member.
The article, Genes and Dementia, describes the connection between the two and offers links to helpful articles. Take a look.
Most people don’t develop dementia as they age. While experts aren’t sure what exactly causes dementia, they know that certain risk factors and underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes and stroke, can increase the risk of dementia.
Other things that may cause dementia-like symptoms are thyroid problems, food, sugar, and what I believe was a significant factor in Dan’s (my husband) decline - the combination of anesthesia, a nine-day hospital stay, and overuse of medications.
Most risk factors for dementia are preventable - so they say. Like any other disease, if we take steps to manage the avoidable risks, we can reduce our chances of getting dementia.
This website offers a list of prevention measures, but some are debatable. Dan was physically active. He ate no fried foods, chips, or fatty foods and wasn’t overweight. He didn’t smoke or drink, had low blood pressure, and held a full-time job until he was 80. Still.
The site mentions online games. But the question is, do memory apps work?
A study published in The Journal of Neuroscience found no evidence that commercial brain training programs improve decision-making behavior, brain response, or cognitive task performance beyond those specifically taught.
Dan lost his ability to use phone apps - or even his phone.
Although I am not a medical doctor, a complex set of factors seemed to be in play.
His father and sister were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
He experienced hearing loss and earlier heart problems.
He ate a lot of sugar.
He was 78 years old.
The hospital stay exacerbated the issues.
An article, The Incredible Power of Music, offers ideas for working with the struggles of dementia.
Being intellectually well is critical. At the end of life, Dan had few mental capabilities.
His body didn’t remember how to function.
He couldn’t have, nor did he want, a social life. His best friend was a therapy dog.
He couldn’t remember to exercise or have hobbies. We did a 300-piece jigsaw puzzle daily - often doing the same one more than once because he couldn’t remember having done it before, and he could do them.
In his mind, there was no reason to live.
Having been through this experience - I strongly encourage you to maintain and build this health. Living with dementia was hell. My fervent wish is that we had realized and done more.
Two articles I liked this week:
Brain Fart - “It’s great to know that “declining focus” is normal, but Senior Moments can still be quite embarrassing. One time…” The article normalized the many dumb things I have done.
Remembering How to Play - “I think somewhere along the way, we forget how important it is. Play.” I need to learn how to play rather than make everything work.
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Lovely , Janice. Thanks for all this. "... begin recording stories from your life. Writing is a way to engage your mind and express yourself." Thus 🍁Leaves on substack! Writing daily for eight months has got to have some positive effect, right? I want so much to subscribe to NY Times crossword, but I know me. I would do them all day long and ignore everything else, so I don't. It is called managing my addiction. Another challenge as we age. Ha Ha Ha Keep up the fine work.
Writing a Substack newsletter is a great way to maintain intellectual wellness. #8