5 Things: Staying Sharp with Age

photo courtesy of supakj107 – fotolia

Memory and cognitive loss don’t have to be inevitable with age. Minneapolis-based neuropsychologist David Alter is co-author of a new book called Staying Sharp focused on how to approach aging with intent and purpose—and teaching readers how to embrace their potential for a youthful brain well into their senior years.

1. Cultivate sharp attention and mindfulness
Prioritize what matters. “The ability to select what’s relevant to your own life and then sustain your focus on it allows you to suppress the influence of unnecessary distractions,” says Alter.

2. Stay curious
“The brain is hungry for novelty—it wakes up when it encounters something unexpected,” Alter says. “One of the best ways to encourage new pathways is to challenge the brain by saying ‘nope, that old way won’t work, let’s try something different.’”

3. Be open to new adventures
Alter says one of the major characteristics of a youthful brain involves flexible responses to problem solving, which relies on overcoming unexpected challenges. “When someone says, ‘I don’t know what to make of this,’ that very reaction is proof the brain is actively forming new associations.”

4. Be an optimist (sans rose-colored glasses)
“Optimism is extremely powerful,” Alter says. “It gives you the ability to stay the course rather than being consumed by frustration. In spite of setbacks, you retain your faith that the future can be better. That’s the essence of resilience—you get knocked down, get back up, and keep going.”

5. Stay true to who you are, and prioritize quality relationships over quantity
Alter says honesty and empathy are the keys to meaningful relationships, which are what keep us (and our brains) going. “Having a deep, strong, and empathic social network of people who get you, and who you get, makes you a much more resilient person.”

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