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5 Ways to Improve Memory and Cognitive Function During the Autumn Season

There are plenty of opportunities for seniors to get into nature, enjoy good food, and participate in fun activities during the fall. Even better, many of these seasonal opportunities do double duty by boosting memory and brain health.

There's a lot to love about the autumn season. Autumn brings cooler temperatures, bright foliage, and fun outdoor activities that people of all ages can enjoy. Whether you're a senior or a home caregiver, autumn also brings lots of opportunities to boost memory and cognitive function while enjoying the season's benefits.

As we age, cognitive disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer's disease become real concerns. Being proactive with preserving memory and cognitive function is important for slowing down or even preventing the symptoms of these disorders. Different types of dementia require different types of treatment. Although there is no cure, there are many things you can do to manage dementia symptoms and hinder the disease’s progress or increase daily comfort and functionality.

Here are five ways you or your senior client can stay mentally sharp this fall:

1. Make some art

For people with a creative streak, autumn is the perfect season to do crafts or make art. Coloring is an easy, soothing activity that people of all ages can enjoy — it's not just for kids! Drawing and painting are also good choices, and the beautiful weather and changing colors of autumn can provide plenty of artistic inspiration. Autumn also offers lots of choices for seniors who prefer tactile arts and crafts — consider pressing flowers, carving pumpkins, or creating collages with brightly colored leaves. Some seniors may also enjoy knitting something cozy like a shawl for the upcoming cold weather.

Doing arts and crafts is fun, but that's not the only benefit. Creativity also boosts brain health and happiness. Being creative gives seniors a chance to exercise their mind and stretch their imagination, which can improve cognition and decision-making skills. Creative activities may even have a protective effect against mental health problems like depression and anxiety.

2. Take walks in nature

There's no better time than autumn to get outside and enjoy the area's natural beauty. On days when the weather is nice, bundle up in a favorite jacket and head out for a stroll. You can go to a nearby nature park, or just take a walk around the block. Pick up a few pretty leaves, enjoy the bright blue sky, and breathe in the crisp autumn air.

Exercise is great for everyone, but it's especially important for seniors. That's because aerobic exercise, such as walking, is one of the most effective ways to improve memory and protect brain health. The part of the brain responsible for memory is called the hippocampus, and as a person ages, their hippocampus tends to shrink. However, researchers have found that regular aerobic exercise can prevent this from happening by causing new cells to grow in the hippocampus. For able-bodied seniors, half an hour of walking every day can have a big impact on overall energy levels and well-being, too.

3. Pick apples or pumpkins

There's no better way to enjoy the harvest season than by seeking out some fresh, locally grown treats. Apple picking is a perennially popular activity that seniors can enjoy with their family or home caregiver. Visiting a pumpkin patch is another great fall activity for able-bodied seniors and home caregivers. Many pumpkin patches offer a variety of activities that are enjoyable for visitors of all ages, such as taking a hayride, petting farm animals, and doing crafts. Another good option for enjoying fall produce is your local farmer's market. Almonds, figs, pears, persimmons, and pomegranates are among the many foods that are in the fall.

Eating locally and seasonally is a great way to change up a boring diet. It's also a good way for seniors to make sure they're getting all the nutrients they need. Fresh fruits and vegetables contain high levels of antioxidants, which have powerful protective effects on the brain as well as the rest of the body. In short, fruits and veggies may be able to boost mental sharpness.

4. Cook autumn-themed foods

Once you've been to the apple orchard or the farmer's market, it's time to get creative with all the goodies you brought home. There are lots of delicious autumn recipes out there to suit every palate. Apple pies, hot chocolate, pumpkin bars, and hearty stews are a few good options, but there are plenty of other choices, too.

Cooking can be a great way for seniors to exercise their creativity and maintain their independence. For seniors who aren't into arts and crafts, getting busy in the kitchen might be a nice alternative way to try new things and de-stress. If you're a home caregiver and you help a senior client with meal preparation, encourage your client to prepare some simple autumn-themed foods with you. Even better, ask them if they have any recipes from the past. Cooking a longtime favorite dish can be a great way to help a client recall old memories and reminisce.

5. Visit friends and family

There's nothing quite as nice as a visit with loved ones, no matter what time of year it is. The fall offers a wide variety of unique, enjoyable ways seniors can connect with their friends and family. Sunny, mild fall days are perfect opportunities to meet up with family for a picnic or stroll around an autumn festival with friends. Other ideas include meeting up with friends to drink hot apple cider and play cards, inviting family over to watch football games on the weekends, and carving pumpkins with grandkids before Halloween. A home caregiver can help make visits possible by contacting family members and helping their senior client with transportation.

Research has shown time and again that good social support is crucial for maintaining healthy cognitive function in seniors. Seniors who socialize with friends and visit their family regularly are healthier and mentally sharper than seniors who become isolated as they get older. Besides that, reminiscing about past times with family members and old friends is one of the best ways to improve memory. Overall, social support has a profound impact on a senior's quality of life, so it shouldn't be overlooked.

(September 21, 2017, edited for content)

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