Group of happy senior friends

Brain Health for Seniors

Inspīr Senior Living Team

Cognitive health is an essential part of performing everyday activities and becomes increasingly important as we get older. According to the National Institute on Aging, brain health refers to how well our brain functions across several areas. These include cognitive health (our ability to think, learn and remember), motor function (how well we control movements), emotional functions (how we respond to emotions, both pleasant and unpleasant) and tactile function (how well we feel and respond to pressure, pain and temperature). Brain health can be affected by age-related changes in the brain, mood disorders and other non-age-related factors such as Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

As we age, worrying about losing our memory or suffering from a dementia-related disease is something many of us have in common. Luckily, there has been a lot of research on the topic of brain health and what can be done to combat cognitive decline as we age. We have compiled a host of helpful information and suggestions throughout this guide on how to keep your brain healthy, which is not just good for your brain, but beneficial for overall health.


Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s 6 Keys to Staying Sharp

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, the CNN Chief Medical Correspondent and practicing neurosurgeon, has been studying the brain for decades. In his newest book, “12 Weeks to a Sharper You: A Guided Program,” Dr. Gupta explores the factors related to brain health and discusses how we can strengthen our brain function in simple and effective ways. Our brain health guide provides in-depth steps and solutions to cultivate a healthier brain, as outlined by Dr. Gupta’s 6 keys to staying sharp:

  • Nutrition. One of the most important aspects of keeping your brain healthy is your diet. Dr. Gupta suggests following the S.H.A.R.P. protocol: Cut down on sugar and salt, focus on hydration, add more omega-3 fatty acids, reduce your portions and plan ahead. If this feels like too much at once, the most important takeaway is to minimize your intake of processed foods, as these items usually contain added sugar and high fructose corn syrups.
  • Movement. Physical activity is scientifically linked to improved brain health and function and is even thought to slow memory loss. You can add in more exercise by walking more, opt for taking the stairs if you’re able and take breaks from sitting every hour for at least two minutes. Even household chores count as daily activity. This is as easy as cooking, cleaning and washing the dishes.
  • Downtime. Stress is considered a trigger for silent neurodegeneration which can impair your ability to learn, adapt to new situations and decrease your cognition. Take breaks during the day to engage in an activity that is peaceful, meditative and stress-reducing. Activities like daily meditation, drawing, or spending time with a pet can help you clear your worries, reduce your heart-rate and decrease the risk of chronic stress.
  • Sleep. Sleep is a critical phase in which the body recovers and replenishes itself, ultimately affecting every system from our brain to our heart. Prioritize your sleep by starting with a peaceful bedtime routine and avoid looking at screens, such as your cellphone or TV, an hour before you plan to sleep.
  • Discovery. Studies show that staying mentally stimulated decreases the risk of developing dementia. Learning something each day is easier than you think! Try choosing different routes to familiar destinations, switch which hand you use to brush your teeth or pick up a new hobby that involves socializing with other people.
  • Connection. We all need social connection in order to thrive, especially when it comes to matters of the brain. The strength of our social connections can actually predict the health of our bodies and brains as we go through life. Don’t overthink it—just call a friend, invite a neighbor for lunch or walk with your friend and talk about anything.

We’ve developed a healthy brain guide, based on Dr. Gupta’s 6 key takeaways to help you achieve better brain health in a way that can be easily implemented each day. Here’s everything you need to know about keeping your brain healthy and sharp:


Diet and Your Brain

Our overall health is affected significantly by our diet and bad habits can start at an early age. These habits are often very difficult to change as we get older but with some knowledge and understanding of how our diet truly affects all of our body, including our brain, we can begin to make changes and reap the rewards.

Several diets have a similar focus that can all be beneficial for the brain and overall health. We’ve listed three below which should help you create a healthy diet plan. It is normal to have fluctuations on some weeks but the overall goal is to minimize red meat, processed foods, added sugar (natural sugars are acceptable), and limit alcohol. Introduce a new diet plan into your life gradually. Your chances for success will be higher if you eliminate things step by step instead of trying to change everything at once. We recommend speaking with a dietician for advice and double-check with your doctor to how any changes may affect current health issues and/or medications.


Mediterranean Diet or The Blue Zone Diet

Blue Zones and National Geographic studied areas around the world which were home to the highest proportions of people who reached age 100, referred to as Blue Zones. Among the commonalities was an emphasis on a healthy diet. Both the Mediterranean and Blue Zone diets are quite similar because they are primarily plant-based. Meat is eaten minimally 1-2 times a week and it is suggested to completely avoid added sugar, refined grains, trans fats, processed meats, and highly processed foods. Both diets are inspired by parts of the world that have communities where people eat food in its most natural state, are more active, live in engaging communities, and tend to live longer as a result. These lifestyles focus on being less sedentary. Exercise is achieved through walking, chores, gardening, and even harvesting food.

  • Add to your shopping list: vegetables, fruit (avoid fruit juices; rely on the whole fruit which has more fiber and is more filling), seeds, legumes, nuts, potatoes, whole grains, herbs, spices, bread, seafood, extra virgin olive oil, and red wine.
  • Add in moderation: cheese, yogurt, and poultry.
  • Add once in a while: red meat.
  • Avoid all together: processed meat, sugar-sweetened drinks, added sugars, refined grains, and oil.

To learn more about the Blue Zones and the key to longevity, we recommend checking out the new Netflix series, Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones.



The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) was created to prevent high blood pressure but it offers many other health benefits. It keeps a closer eye on sodium levels — the standard DASH diet encourages 2,300 mg or less per day. The lower sodium DASH diet recommends no more than 1,500 mg per day.

In addition, the diet recommends:

  • Grains: 6-8 servings a day
  • Vegetables: 4-5 servings a day
  • Fruits: 4-5 servings a day
  • Dairy: 2-3 servings a day
  • Lean meat, poultry, or fish: 6oz or fewer a day
  • Nuts, seeds, legumes: 4-5 servings a week
  • Fats and oils: 2-3 servings a day
  • Sweets: 5 servings or fewer a week



This diet is a combination of the Mediterranean Diet and the DASH Diet. According to the Mayo Clinic, there is great evidence that diet can not only improve brain health but potentially lower cognitive decline and dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

The MIND Diet includes many of the foods we have already highlighted.  Vegetables such as leafy greens like kale, spinach, and lettuce. Do your best to get one serving a day of greens but add in another serving of other vegetables daily as well. Berries are real winners and great for sweet treats. Despite the old “an apple a day”, berries, especially blueberries and strawberries, have proven to result in the slowest rate of cognitive decline.

While nuts are caloric, they have beneficial fat-soluble vitamin E which has a reputation for its brain-protective attributes. Grab a handful of dry-roasted, raw, or low sodium nuts.

Olive oil is a must for a healthy kitchen. Choose extra-virgin over “light” and select a bottle in a dark glass container – since light makes it go bad faster.

Meat-free meals are important to incorporate into your weekly menu. A healthy brain thrives on less meat, especially red meat. The best way to accomplish this is to plan. Great substitutes for red meat are skinless chicken and fish. Any types of pulses, including beans and lentils along with soybeans are great alternatives — not only are they full of vitamin B but they also fill you up.

Have wine with your meal. We are not encouraging excessive drinking; however, studies have shown that a glass of red wine with your meal may lower the risk of dementia.


Best Brain Supplements for Seniors

While we should aim to get most of our nutrients from real foods, sometimes we all need a little help getting there. Supplements can help older adults, people following strict diets, and those navigating complex medical conditions to support their overall brain health. According to Forbes magazine, here are a few supplements that can be especially beneficial for older adults. However, it’s important to consult your physician before adding anything into your diet.

  • Omega-3 fatty acids. Of all the supplements to take for brain health, omega-3 fatty acids is at the top of the list. These are essential for the development of the brain and have a large influence on mental health.
  • Vitamin D. Vitamin D is a hormone responsible for important functions in the body and is essential for brain health. Deficiencies in vitamin D are linked to dementia, depression, and schizophrenia.
  • B vitamins. There are eight essential B vitamins that play important roles in brain health including healthy brain function, protection against memory loss, cognitive decline, and neurodegenerative diseases.


Exercise and Brain Health

If you are currently very sedentary, you’d be surprised how even just little exercise can make a difference to your overall health. As little as 45 minutes 3 times a week can make a difference in your cognitive function.

Dr. Wendy Suzuki, a neuroscientist at New York University, who is best known for her studies of the brain areas important for memory, studies the defining effects of physical activity on the human brain and its cognitive functions. Her book Healthy Brain, Happy Life speaks about the brains capability to change throughout our lives, and how movement offers great benefits. Dr. Suzuki is a collaborative partner with Maplewood Senior Living and works with us to help residents keep moving for improved brain health. According to the Cleveland Clinic, and explained by Dr. Bonnor-Jackson “physical activity may benefit the brain in several ways, such as promoting cardiovascular health, improving blood flow to the brain, reducing inflammation, and lowering levels of stress hormones. All of these can adversely affect cognition.”

Begin slowly if you haven’t done much exercise before but anything counts. The easiest is walking. Start by walking your hallway or around your block. As you strengthen you can build up to do longer distances. Play golf, swim, or go for a bicycle ride. Even walking around the supermarket counts – you’d be surprised how many steps you get doing that.


Social Connectivity

Humans are naturally social creatures and it is important for us, at any age, to remain connected with peers, family, and friends throughout our lives. Adults who are socially active typically have better cognitive function while people who feel lonely tend to experience faster cognitive loss.

This can get more difficult as you age and it is important to actively find ways to remain socially engaged.

How can you avoid getting isolated or lonely? Here are some things to consider:

  • Join a bridge or book club
  • Make a weekly coffee date with friends
  • Volunteer at a local community center
  • Move into a senior living community
  • Pick up a new hobby such as gardening or an art class
  • Talk to friends online via Zoom or FaceTime


Inspīr Senior Living Supports Brain Health

Brain health is one of our nine core elements. We believe that what’s good for the brain is also good for the body, mind, and soul. At Inspir Carnegie Hill and at our upcoming Inspir Embassy Row, we focus on offering lifelong learning classes, cognitively stimulating activities, brain-healthy foods, and fitness classes to keep the neurons active and to maximize brain function.

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