Day of the Elderly: see tips for exercising the brain in quarantine


The elderly population has grown in Brazil and in the world, and as this group gains more space in society, the strategies and behaviors that elderly people must take to have a better quality of life gain more importance. One of these precautions is to ensure a proper functioning of the brain, protecting memory, reasoning and other functions.

To draw attention to this change in societies and their challenges, the National Senate for the Elderly was created by the Federal Senate, celebrated on September 27. The United Nations (UN) also approved, in 1990, the creation of the International Day of the Elderly, celebrated on the 1st of October.

In Brazil, for example, it is expected that the elderly will be almost 30% of the population by 2050, and that from 2030 the country will have more people over 60 years old than people between 0 and 14 years old. Current life expectancy, which is yet to grow, is 79.7 years.

In addition to some care and changes in daily life as we age, the elderly population faced a new problem in 2020: the new coronavirus pandemic. As they are part of the group at risk for the disease, the elderly need to be extra careful, along with the need to practice social isolation.

Thais Bento Lima da Silva, professor of the gerontology course at the School of Arts, Sciences and Humanities at the University of São Paulo (EACH – USP), says that this scenario has led to impacts on the routine of the elderly, which also influence psychological well-being of this group, demanding a reframing of their routines.

“Many were regulars at social centers, cultural activities, programs with established links, which were affected by social distance. This implies changes in the routine, in the goals, and even in the meaning of life ”, comments Thais. The consequence, therefore, is the appearance of more anxious thoughts, stress and symptoms of depression.

Another problem is that, inside the home, the activities that can be done are limited, especially for those with difficult access to the internet or lack of knowledge to browse the network. This scenario ends up also being conducive to a more stopped routine, which generates less stimuli for the brain and leads to effects on the organ and its functions.

“[A pandemia] It affected the quality of sleep because the routine is more idle, the elderly person becomes more tense, more concerned, it is difficult to relax, to think about positive things, and he lies down with this agitation, restlessness ”, adds the teacher. But how to deal with this scenario?

The importance of cognitive exercises

Cognitive exercises are called that because they work with stimulating activities for the brain. Tânia Ramos, manager of the AtivaIdade Program, which brings together several cognitive stimulation exercises for people over 60, notes that there are “dozens of activities, and most are very simple, easy to do”.

The idea is that these exercises keep the brain stimulated, since aging is still accompanied by a slowdown in the routine and the amount of experiences we have been through.

The goal is to stimulate “memory, cognition, motor coordination, logical reasoning”, explains Tânia, allowing the brain to not only continue to perform these functions well, but also to preserve the degree of reasoning or the memories that the person already has.

“There are many positive changes resulting from cognitive stimulation, it compensates for changes in aging. You use more strategies to remember and the brain goes through a neurogenesis, forming new neurons, strengthening the neural network ”, comments Thais Bento. Thus, a “cognitive reserve” is created, which even helps to deal with diseases.

Tânia explains that simple activities such as word search, sudoku, chess, knitting, crochet, crossword puzzles, craft activities as a whole, reading, reading aloud, simple math accounts, and also practices that count as cognitive exercises a little more willingness, like dancing or singing.

Thais notes that it is important to take into account the wishes of the elderly when defining which exercises to do – not least because activities done with ill will do not usually bring good results. The elderly must have a leading role in the process, and from there it is possible to insert news and demystify opinions about certain practices.

“The life story must be valued, the trajectory cannot be forgotten, what the elderly person faced, his dreams, what contributed to society, and he must see himself as a being in constant change and learning”, highlights the teacher .

However, it is worth trying to present new activities, and also to change specific parts of the routine, as a way to bring new stimuli and challenges to the brain continuously. These small changes are part of the so-called neurobic technique, and involve, for example, dressing with your eyes closed, changing where you use an accessory, using your non-dominant hand to do tasks, that is, creating challenges.

Another important step in this process, according to Tânia, is to set aside prejudices: “the elderly themselves have a prejudice that the elderly cannot play, have fun, make fun of, they already feel uncomfortable with this and do nothing”. She points out that it is valid to perform the activities she likes, but falling into the routine is not beneficial, in this sense, it is important to go, at least, alternating these practices periodically.

But the cognitive stimuli that we can provide to the brain go beyond these activities. Traveling, for example, is great for anyone, and serves as a great neurological stimulus for changing scenery and new experiences.

Learning a language, returning to study, creating or planning a new business are also valid activities, as long as the person has the conditions (physical, psychological and financial) to do so. Tânia points out that it is not necessarily a problem if the plan does not get off the ground, as planning a trip or a business already generates incentives.

And, for those who are easier with the internet, it is worth taking advantage of the virtual environment to chat with friends, look for games and other activities, read articles and e-books. It is important, however, to take two precautions: do not become addicted to staying in the digital environment and also do not just fall into exercises that are not aimed at older people.

“You have to see the authorship of the material, the professional, previously it was believed that these cognitive activities were only for children and adolescents, so they predominate on the internet, but this is not for the elderly, because he is an older adult, he has to understand his preference ”, explains Thais.

The importance of contact

The gerontology teacher observes that cognitive exercises tend to be more effective when done in groups, either with family members or with other elderly people. A problem that she points out, however, is that sometimes, in an attempt to help, the relatives of an elderly person can end up getting in the way.

“What we see is that many families are concerned about a possible worsening of the cognitive performance of family members, and without professional support they look for activities on the internet, but it is important to be careful with what is there,” advises Thais. This does not mean that it is always necessary to seek professional guidance, but it usually increases the effectiveness of the exercises.

Tânia points out that, often, there are better ways for the family to help the elderly: “talking is the most important thing for those who live with an elderly person, not leaving that person as if he were apart. Ask to tell stories, play together, sing along, organize photos. They are cognitive and affective things ”.

“Family members cannot see the elderly as incapable, however much they may have a disability or something that is not well, they have other abilities that are ok, they must see where they can collaborate with this. It is very sad to see younger people wanting to leave the elderly to do nothing ”, he says.

In addition to family members, it is valid that the elderly maintain contact with their friends, and also seek to meet new friends, thinking not only about the brain stimuli that this brings, but also about reducing loneliness and the emotional importance of that contact.

Community centers, clubs, social media groups, video calls and other places of contact are important for this, but Thais notes that there is still a lack of public investment to create physical spaces, which limits the number of elderly people who may have these. new experiences, in general those of richer sections of the population.

“There are few specific services considering the complexity of the State of São Paulo, there is a lack of more services, which requires a greater displacement to do these activities. These limitations need to be met with public policies aimed at these elderly people ”, says the professor.

The ultimate goal, according to the teacher, is to allow the elderly to have a good quality of life and to age well: “the idea is that the elderly can maintain autonomy and independence, so they need to see what facilitates and promotes this, focusing on a healthy lifestyle, good sleep quality, exercise and cognitive stimulation ”.

Want to know where to find some of these cognitive exercises for free? Until the month of November, the AtivaIdade Program will be providing some free content for the elderly on social networks. EACH-USP also has a partnership with the Supera Method, which provides free exercise e-books and open classes for adults and the elderly, check here.

For those interested in returning to their studies, it is also worth researching university programs, such as the Open University to the Elderly Program, at the University of São Paulo, which allows people over 60 years of age to freely attend some subjects offered on the institution’s various campuses. And for those interested in developing new hobbies, YouTube is a great tool for finding video tutorials on tasks such as crafts, cooking and crochet.

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