Creative hobbies can stave off the cognitive decline and memory impairment that often precedes dementia, according to a study by the Mayo Clinic. The study looked at all sorts of activities, including book and movie clubs, playing games on the Internet, and even travel with family and friends, all of which showed some positive effects on mental health.
But for preserving memory skills and preventing dementia, nothing beats creative hobbies and past times, according to the study. If you are looking for activities to encourage memory and brain function in aging adults while giving them an outlet for their creative memories, here are four safe, fun, and inexpensive hobbies that will get their cognitive juices flowing.
1. Explore Digital Photography
One study found that learning a new skill was much better for preventing memory loss than even doing “intellectual” pursuits such as crossword puzzles or Sudoku when it comes to aging adults. Digital photography turned out to have the greatest effect on seniors, because it combines learning new skills (computer skills, Photoshop) with creativity, engaging both the right and left sides of the brain. If your loved one has a smartphone, it’s easy to get started using the camera in the device and a photo editing app. If dexterity is more of an issue, try an inexpensive digital camera and an iPad or laptop and photo editing software.
2. Take Music Lessons
Children who learn to play a musical instrument develop a greater volume of white matter than their nonmusical peers and develops neural connections that can help prevent cognitive decline in later years. But even seniors who take up music later in life also reap robust gains in memory, planning ability, and speech fluidity after just six months of instruction, according to one study of seniors between 65 and 85 who took weekly piano lessons. If you don’t have a piano at home, an electronic keyboard will do.
3. Learn a Foreign Language
Adults who learn a second language later in life are able to delay the effects of aging on the brain, including memory loss and cognitive decline, in some cases by up to four years or more according to one study. People who learn a second (or third!) language show a whole list of positive side effects, including an improved ability to remember a list of items, to sequence items, and to stay focused on a task longer without losing concentration. There are several great study-at-home programs for learning a new language, or look for classes at your local library or community center.
4. Pick Up Drawing, Painting, or Pottery
There’s something almost magical about the brain connections that develop when an aging adult gets his hands dirty in the art studio. Besides relieving stress and engaging the whole brain, hands-on artistic pursuits are a form of “neurobics,” according to Dr. Lawrence Katz in his book, “Keep Your Brain Alive: 83 Neurobic Exercises to Prevent Memory Loss and Increase Mental Fitness.” Katz says art builds connections between the neurons and stimulates the brain to grow new ones by using the senses in new ways.
So, while regular exercise and challenging activities like puzzles and games have a place in protecting the brains of aging seniors, don’t neglect the benefits of creative hobbies to prevent memory loss and decrease cognitive decline.