A new year is in sight. We often think of January as a great time to pick up a new hobby, plan new adventures or set goals for the months ahead. The importance of trying new hobbies year-round cannot be overstated, however.
A recent study from Mercy Health shows that having too much time on our hands can negatively affect us. Engaging in challenging and novel activities can significantly improve memory function in older adults.
It is more important than ever for senior living communities to embrace vibrant living and support their residents with interesting programming. By making it easy for them to take up new hobbies, we support residents’ experience and growth, which ultimately preserve and enhance their cognitive functions.
Neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to adapt and form new neural connections throughout life, has immense potential to keep our minds sharp as we age. When older adults engage in hobbies, there is a positive response from the brain as it forms and strengthens new neural connections.
Research has shown that regularly partaking in mentally challenging activities, such as learning to play an instrument, joining an art class, exploring different cultures or picking up a new language, can lead to improved cognitive function, particularly memory recall.
One of the many takeaways of the pandemic was the danger of isolation for the aging population. We learned that loneliness and isolation increase the risk for individuals to develop mental health challenges, as well as heart failure, cognitive decline and dementia/Alzheimer’s disease, according to the surgeon general and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, respectively. When older adults participate in new hobbies, they spend more time with others and increase their chances for forming lasting friendships.
Inquire about their interests
When people of all ages try something new, it stimulates their attention and interest. It is crucial for senior living communities to ask residents what they are interested in, because one person’s idea of a fun activity could inspire others to join in.
For example, residents at Brightview Senior Living’s Shelton, CT, community recently went ziplining for the first time. One resident brought up the idea, and four others joined in on the adventure. Together, they had an exhilarating experience and made memories together — all because they wanted to try something they hadn’t tried before.
Scientifically speaking, novel experiences such as ziplining trigger the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a crucial role in memory consolidation. Ziplining is a unique example of this. Some others include learning chess and joining a tournament, taking pottery classes or trying new recipes.
A holistic approach
Vibrancy has become a buzzword in senior living, and for good reason. But beyond vibrancy, a holistic approach to overall wellness is a must.
SPICE in Motion, a proprietary program woven into every aspect of Brightview’s culture, is how we ensure that residents’ needs are met. SPICE stands for Spiritual, Physical, Intellectual, Cultural and Emotional health. Examples of those categories:
- Spiritual: Religion, meditation, positive affirmations, poetry and connecting with nature.
- Physical: Line dancing, drumming, fitness classes and walking clubs.
- Intellectual: Attending lectures, book clubs, current events and panel discussions that promote lifelong learning.
- Cultural: Learning about other cultures, trying new foods and learning a new language.
- Emotional: Grief support groups and comedy shows.
It is the role of senior living communities to ensure that residents are constantly trying new things and to offer a holistic approach to health and wellness. At Brightview, the team of almost 50 vibrant living directors truly create custom, exciting experiences for their residents to support their quality of life and mental well-being.
Dori Ray is corporate director of vibrant living at Brightview Senior Living
The opinions expressed in each McKnight’s Senior Living guest column are those of the author and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Senior Living.
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