Mounting research shows that mental stimulation and play for the elderly is critical to their mental health. There is growing evidence which shows that mental exercise may do more than forestall dementia, it may actually repair the brain, as well. Research is just beginning to discover that the brain has stem cells, and that by stimulating them, new neurons can be generated. So the old saying about old age being a second childhood is actually true.
Playing chess, bridge, cards, musical instrument and games — the kind of things that challenge the mind — have been proven to ward off dementia. A study at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, found that mentally active seniors reduced their risk of dementia by as much as 75 percent, compared to those who do not stimulate their minds.
However, it’s not just mental stimulation that helps — physical play can help as well. For instance, studies have shown that walking barefoot on a rough surface, like a cobblestone matt can sharpen mental acuity and reduce blood pressure. Playing on a swing set, teeter totter and other toys can help improve balance, coordination and speed — so sending the grandparents to the park with the grandkids and getting them to join the fun is a great idea.
Of course, combining mental stimulation with physical challenges is the best of both worlds. Strangely enough, scientists found that dancing was the best options. It combines physical skills with the mental challenge of remembering the steps and performing them well.