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Mental Fitness For Seniors

Mental fitness for seniors is a topic that is gaining momentum as baby-boomers begin changing their lifestyles... and coping more with aging parents.

While conventional exercises are high on the list - particularly walking, swimming and cycling - there are a couple of underlying trends with potentially greater impact potential.

They relate to the mind... to memory. Maintaining and improving the mental agility to cope with ordinary society.

San Francisco-based Posit Science, is a company of scientists who have published research on aging of the brain. Spokeswoman Peggy Jara told the North Bay Business Journal that "A lot of time, people think it's enough to do crossword puzzles and do sudoku or something like that. It's not enough just to keep your brain busy. There's no cognitive benefit to that."

Instead, they've developed software to help seniors improve their retention and concentration abilities. Essentially, it's a series of video games that require the user to respond to sounds and remember events.

The program focuses on audio because the creators believe hearing loss leads to the deterioration of other brain functions, which can be at least partially restored through exercise.

The marketing director for retirement community Springfield Place, Dave Knepler, who studied aging at San Francisco State University, told the Journal that he was initially skeptical that the program was "just a new, fancy product to sell people," but he was eventually convinced after reading about the scientific theory behind it.

"It actually builds new neurons in the brain to retrieve the information and also builds listening skills so one can pay attention during a conversation and remain socially engaged," he said.

"The speed at which younger people speak can often alienate or lose an older adult during a conversation," he said.

This is a dramatic departure from systems such as my local college which offers what it calls a "brain gym". Essentially, it's adult education - classes in languages, dance, craft, computers and suchlike.

While such arrangements have great potential, I've always found an alarming dropout rate. Irrespective of the topic, or the cost, typically the class halves each week before stabilizing at less than 30% of the original numbers.

Dangerous Forgetfulness

It's perhaps that pattern which leads to the other need for addressing mental fitness in seniors. Dangerous forgetfulness when it comes to medicines.

The Australian Department of Veterans' Affairs runs a program called MATES - the Veterans' Medicines Advice and Therapeutics Education Services.

Veterans MATES uses data from prescription claims to identify members of the veteran community who may be at risk of medication misadventure, and provides information which may assist in improving the management of their medicines.

An important facet of the program is to inform and raise awareness of a veteran's chronic medical conditions and to encourage improved communication between veterans and members of their healthcare team.

The most common problems are people forgetting which medicines they have taken and when. The result is missing scheduled intakes or double-dosing, or taking meds that conflict with one another. Any of which could be life-threatening.

The St Louis Post-Despatch recently reported the emergence of a new breed of consulting pharmacists who specialize in addressing just those conditions in the elderly, and examining medication regimens for private clients.

Tom Clark, director of policy and advocacy for the American Society for Consultant Pharmacists in Alexandria, Va., said that although most people haven't heard of consulting pharmacists, the demand for them is expected to grow as the population ages.

So... has that got your gray matter churning over? It should. I haven't even touched on Alzheimer's, dementia and all those other memory-specific health disasters.

There are no doubt as many ways of addressing deteriorating memory as there are of addressing physical deterioration. It may be in our own best interests, as well as those of our parents, to start taking an interest in mental fitness for seniors.