5 Tips to Keep Your Patients (and You!) Mentally Fit

mental fitness

If you’re working with older clients, one common question you probably hear from both your clients and their family members is, “How can I reduce my risk of cognitive impairment?”

Unfortunately, there’s no magic pill that can prevent memory loss, ward off cognitive decline, or keep us young and healthy forever. Still, we can help maintain our brain health by reducing stress, having a positive attitude, engaging in social activities, being more physically active, and challenging yourself mentally.

These tips and suggestions are intended for you to share with your clients and their families, but you would also do well to incorporate them into your own life!


If I were to make just one suggestion for supporting mental health and memory, it would be exercise!

Exercise helps the body release hormones that make us feel great and aid in providing a nourishing environment for the growth of brain cells. Research has shown that physical exercise is crucial for maintaining good blood flow to the brain, reducing the risk of heart attack, stroke, and diabetes, but it also helps protect against the risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.1

Eat Well and Drink Plenty of Water

Water is essential for overall health, both physical and mental. Try to drink about 64 ounces per day.

Research suggests that nutritional intake influences the development and progression of dementia.2 Changing your eating habits is cheaper than medication, easier to implement, and safe, if you are eating a balanced diet.

Get a Good Night’s Sleep

Sleep plays a central role in the formation of new neuronal connections and the pruning of old ones. Studies show that getting enough sleep improves reaction time and split-second decision making.3 A study of cognitively healthy people aged 65 and over showed that daytime napping is associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline. On the other hand, getting less than six and a half hours of sleep each night is associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline.4

To help you fall asleep and stay asleep, the National Sleep Foundation recommends sticking to a sleep schedule of the same bedtime and wake-up time—even on the weekends. Many people find it helpful to have a relaxing bedtime routine such as taking a warm bath, staying away from the computer and TV screens at least an hour before bed, or reading for 30 minutes prior to going to sleep. Bedrooms should be a comfortable but cool temperature, free from any noise or light that can disturb your sleep. Make sure your mattress and pillows are comfortable and supportive.

cognitive impairment

Maintain Friendships and Challenge Yourself

Findings from studies suggest that social engagement and enjoyable hobbies and leisure activities play a role in maintaining cognitive function and delaying or preventing dementia.5 Studies have also shown that people with more social ties live longer, have better health, and are less depressed.6 Close relationships and large social networks have a positive impact on memory and cognitive function as people age.7 Social networks may also facilitate healthy behaviors, such as exercise.8

Try these suggestions to keep cognitive functions sharp:

  • Learn to play a new game or teach a friend your favorite card game
  • Volunteer to read to children or tutor a child
  • Build a complicated model or assemble a complex puzzle
  • Join a book group
  • Learn to play a musical instrument
  • Take up a new hobby
  • Usher at your local community theater

Keep a Positive Attitude

Maintaining a positive attitude helps to sustain cognitive health.9 Try these ideas to keep spirits up:

  • Set personal goals—Goals don’t have to be ambitious, but reaching one builds morale and a sense of satisfaction.
  • Keep a journal—Expressing yourself after a stressful day can help you gain perspective and release tension.
  • Share funnies—Life can be too serious, so when you hear or see something funny, share it with someone you know.
  • Accept yourself—Seek out and embrace the positive traits of yourself and your life.
  • Express gratitude—People who are appreciative cope with stress better and have more positive emotions.10
  • Accept yourself—Seek out and embrace the positive traits of yourself and your life.

Social connection, gratitude, a positive outlook, and healthy habits can help maintain and improve your clients’ long-term cognitive outcomes—and yours. Which of these will you start to incorporate into your own life today?

  1. Cass, S. P. (2017). Alzheimer’s disease and exercise: a literature review. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 16(1), 19–22.
  2. Swaminathan, A. & Jicha, G. A. (2014). Nutrition and prevention of Alzheimer’s dementia. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. Retrieved from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnagi.2014.00282/full
  3. Choudhary, A. K., Kishanrao, S. S., Dhanvijay, A. K. D., & Alam, T. (2016). Sleep restriction may lead to disruption in physiological attention and reaction time. Sleep Science, 9(3), 207–211.
  4. Scullin, M. K. & Bliwise, D. L. (2015). Sleep, cognition, and normal aging: integrating a half-century of multidisciplinary research. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10(1), 97–137.
  5. Ruthirakuhan, M., Luedke, A. C., Tam, A., Goel, A., Kurji, A., & Garcia, A. (2012). Use of physical and intellectual activities and socialization in the management of cognitive decline of aging and in dementia: a review. Journal of Aging Research. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3549347/
  6. Umberson, D. & Montez, J. K. (2010). Social relationships and health: a flashpoint for health policy. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 51 (Suppl), S54–S66.
  7. Kelly, M. E., Duff, H., Kelly, S., McHugh Power, J. E., Brennan, S., Lawlor, B. A., & Loughrey, D. G. (2017). The impact of social activities, social networks, social support and social relationships on the cognitive functioning of healthy older adults: a systematic review. Systematic Reviews, 6, 259.
  8. Latkin, C. A. & Knowlton, A. R. (2015). Social network assessments and interventions for health behavior change: a critical review. Behavioral Medicine, 41(3), 90–97.
  9. Kato, K., Zweig, R., Schechter, C. B., Barzilai, N., & Atzmon, G. (2016). Positive attitude towards life, emotional expression, self-rated health, and depressive symptoms among centenarians and near-centenarians. Aging and Mental Health, 20(9), 930–939.
  10. Killen, A. & Macaskill, A. (2015). Using a gratitude intervention to enhance well-being in older adults. Journal of Happiness Studies, 16, 947–964.