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Better brain health in later life


Published on 02 March 2019 08:32 AM

Positive mental wellbeing linked to better brain health in later life. 

Positive mental wellbeing is related to better brain health among older adults and can even reduce the risk of dementia and cognitive decline later in life - according to a new report launched by the Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH).
Age UK, a founding collaborator in the GCBH, is highlighting the evidence contained in the report, which shows that feeling good, functioning well and being able cope with life’s challenges are all related to better brain health as we age.
On the other hand, poor mental wellbeing – like having feelings of hopelessness and pessimism - may interfere with the ability to think and reason as we get older, how we interact with others and how we manage emotions.
The good news is that, in the same way that living a healthy lifestyle can improve physical health, we can improve and maintain mental wellbeing as we age by living healthily, learning how to manage stress and anxiety, and engaging in things that give us a sense of purpose.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK said:  “Even though some people’s thinking skills can decline as we get older - it isn’t an inevitable part of ageing, and we’re learning more and more about what impacts on brain ageing, and what we can do to maintain good brain health later in life.
“The importance of this report is the connection it makes between positive mental wellbeing and better thinking skills in later life, because our sense of mental wellbeing is something we can take steps to improve in the same way that avoiding things like smoking, excess alcohol or a poor diet can help to reduce the risk of developing some forms of dementia and cognitive decline”.
Based on the evidence available in the report, the GCBH states that:

  • Greater mental wellbeing is associated with reduced risk of dementia.
  • It is possible to improve your sense of mental well-being, regardless of age or physical condition.
  • Relating well to others and having good emotional control are key to mental wellbeing.

Age UK recommends the following steps to look after emotional wellbeing as we get older. These steps include:

  • Visiting friends or family, and if you can’t visit in person, phone or Skype them. Try to establish meaningful connections with people in your community, such as your neighbours.
  • Try to take part in a new activity or do something you enjoy every day. Find things that make you laugh, such as humorous movies, books, or online videos.
  • Staying active can help to improve your mood – light exercise or even moving just a little bit more can help. Try to seek out group opportunities and exercise opportunities particularly outdoors.  
  • Eat healthy foods and try to cut back on alcohol consumption.
  • Try becoming a regular volunteer. Volunteering helps provide a sense of purpose in life, which may ward off anxiety, depression, loneliness, and social isolation.
  • Relax, breathe deeply and try to get seven to eight hours sleep a night. Try to disconnect by staying away from all digital screens before bedtime and avoid watching TV in bed

How Age UK helps
Age UK runs a range of social activities and services to help support older people maintain social connections and reduce feelings of loneliness. See the links below.

Age UK Kensington and Chelsea Language Classes
The name of the case study has been changed to protect her identity.
Jane is in her 80s. She has been learning to speak Spanish at Age UK Kensington and Chelsea’s language classes for about three years. The borough of Kensington and Chelsea has a large Spanish speaking community and until that time, Jane had felt isolated and alone.
Jane was already attending meetings and events at Age UK Kensington and Chelsea when it was suggested that she joined in with the Spanish class. As Jane was suffering with memory loss the charity’s staff regularly needed to telephone Jane to remind her when the events and meetings were happening so that she didn’t forget to go along to them. This was time consuming for the staff, so when Jane started the language classes they were keen to see if there would be any improvement to her memory.
At first, Jane thought learning a language at her age was too hard and she quickly became frustrated and anxious. However, as the staff at the Age UK started introducing interesting and fun ways of learning, Jane’s confidence and positivity grew. To aid the group in the language class the staff used pictures to illustrate the Spanish vocabulary and used Bingo games to interpret Spanish numbers. The staff also organised trips to local Spanish restaurants to enable the group to try out what they had learnt in class. The group became close companions and that support coupled with the learning environment generated lots of optimism and positive thinking.
The staff said that Jane no longer has to rely on their calls to remind her to attend classes’, events and meetings. Those reminder telephone calls have been greatly reduced. Jane’s negativity has gone, and she is happier and more positive.
“Now she phones us,” said Ximena Chiesa, Activities and Events Team Leader at Age UK Kensington and Chelsea, “We actually started seeing an improvement in Jane’s memory in a few months of her attending language classes so it has been amazing to see – someone even commented recently that since taking up the language classes she ‘looks 10 years younger’”.
Jane said: “I never miss a class – I look forward to it every week. It has opened new doors for me in the community and I can now catch some of the Spanish words said in church and at concerts that I couldn’t before. It makes me feel really proud to be able to understand what is being said in a different language. I have also made a new friend who only speaks Spanish and she is learning to speak English at Age UK Kensington and Chelsea, so we can now talk to each other”.
Ximena continued: “At Age UK in Kensington and Chelsea we arrange activities that have a different focus like companionship, nutrition, community and mental health. With this project we were able to mix members from different language classes together so they can all experience chatting to one another. This way we could combat feelings of isolation and help improve memory loss.
“We try to identify the different needs of the Borough and match them with the skills of our volunteers to maximise opportunities for our members and I am very proud to be involved with this

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