How can my mom keep her mind engaged and active as she ages?
November 1, 2008 8:45 AM   Subscribe

I need tips to help my mom keep her mind engaged and active, despite her vision problems. Help?

My mom, who is 67, had a large non-malignant brain tumor that was removed ~18 years ago. As a result, she experienced some loss of brain tissue, and also suffered damage to her optic nerve. She has no direct vision in one eye, only peripheral vision. Consequently, long-term reading or computer use aren't very comfortable.

She works part-time, and when she's not working she has a tendency to veg in front of the TV. She talks with folks on the phone, does occasional (1x/2x a month) volunteering, but she's not out and engaged, largely because she can't travel far independently (she still drives, though I'm not sure for how much longer, and not in the dark, which seriously restricts her in wintertime) so she's not doing much to challenge herself. Her work is not particularly engaging, mentally - following processes, no real problem solving involved - and I'm concerned because she has some occasional short term memory lapses as well as a somewhat short temper from time to time (unusual for her) and I'm worried that these are early signs of troubles.

She will be seeing a doctor for an assessment, and next month she and my sister are about to begin going to a gym together a few times a week, which I know will be a help. I've thought about giving her a Nintendo DS with Brain Age, but I know that's just one of many things that would have to be undertaken to have any meaningful effect.

She claims "tiredness" a lot which I think is more boredom. She seems afraid to try things that she did in the past (like sewing or crochet, for example) because of her eyesight, when she foibles a stitch because she can't see as well as she'd like, it's a serious blow, so she shies from that. She's a widow and lives alone, so there's no one "right" there to have spontaneous conversation with. One of her closest friends is battling lupus and is rarely up to going out and doing things (they try to have a monthly movie and lunch date that often has to rescheduled) and her other best friend has Alzheimer's now and no longer knows who mom is when she visits.

I know that there is decline with age, but I want to help her stave that off for as long as possible. She's terrified of ending up like her friend, stuck in a home, not knowing her own friends and family. She's at 99% right now. What can she do to stay there?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
My mom's in a really similar position, after having a stroke.
I've been buying her audiobooks, which she has taken an immediate liking to.
And yeah - a DS with Big Brain Academy (which I prefer to Brain Age) has done wonders for her self-confidence. It never makes her feel bad, and she keeps trying to get better scores.
posted by clcapps at 8:58 AM on November 1, 2008

She can learn to speak another language by listening to audio CDs.
posted by HotPatatta at 8:58 AM on November 1, 2008

I'm sorry, that sounds difficult. You didn't mention too much about her interests, but my first thought was exploring the world of podcasts. There's a lot of content out there. I always put in a vote for Radiolab, but to each their own.

Is your mom musical in any way? I picked up Oliver Sacks' Musicophilia a while back and was amazed at the stories of how even people with seriously compromised brain function were able to play and enjoy music.

The gym is a great idea; physical activity and social interaction are both really important. It must be hard to see her friends in decline. Would she consider counseling?
posted by sapere aude at 9:54 AM on November 1, 2008

Audiobooks are great. Plus there are text readers she might be interested in -- shows the text on the computer screen (can be enlarged) and reads the text out loud. The American Federation for the Blind (AFB) has a lot of information about vision loss, and they work a lot with older people who are having vision problems (but are not necessarily blind). Here's one of their pages, here is their senior site. They have information for friends and family. (There's a whole NFB versus AFB thing that I don't really understand, but generally AFB I think is more known for working with seniors and on senior issues.)
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:22 AM on November 1, 2008

Seconding Big Brain Academy, which is much more fun than Brain Age. My mother enjoys playing it so much we bought her a DS of her own.

As you're anonymous, I'm unsure where you live, but many metropolitan centres these days have organisations for seniors. Contacting one of these groups could be a great way to find out about activities in your local area that your mother might enjoy, and she may feel less self-conscious doing things with people her own age. Might she enjoy something like Bridge? Or birdwatching? Gardening? Nature walks? The great thing about getting out and meeting new people is that they, in turn, will invite her to do other things, widening both her social circle and her options for activies.

If you live near your mother, perhaps you could also consider doing something with her each week, like your sister will be taking her to the gym. Even something as simple as meeting at a local cafe for a coffee and a chat would probably be appreciated by her.

posted by Georgina at 10:54 AM on November 1, 2008

crossword puzzles
posted by alitorbati at 12:16 PM on November 1, 2008

Audiobooks were the first thing that came to my mind. Also exercise seems like it would be a good idea, so going to the gym with her sounds perfect.
posted by number9dream at 12:32 PM on November 1, 2008

A dog?
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:39 PM on November 1, 2008

If you've got a local center for the partially sighted, they could probably give you some advice; they may also have therapists who specialize in this sort of stuff. I sympathize; I'm averse to some things that set off my visual problems, too, and I have to work on it.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 1:32 PM on November 1, 2008

If she likes crochet, maybe knitting would work better in terms of being able to keep track of stitches automatically or by feel.

Does she like old time radio shows?

Is she the type of person who'd join a book club? She could put up notices at the library (say) and start an audiobook club.

Does she have time to volunteer more? I can't think of any offhand besides suicide hotlines (maybe not the best thing to cheer her up) but there should be volunteer opportunities that involve talking with people on the phone, whether to convince them on some issue, answer questions, or give advice.

If there's any possibility for her to move to an area or even street where she's surrounded by more people and can get about easily without a car, it's really worth doing. It's hard to be motivated when you lose your independence. If that's not a possibility, check and see if there are small (often one-person) car services that are more like having a permanent driver than calling a cab - you call to make appointments, but you get the same driver every time. If you can, set her up with someone dependable who she likes. That way she'll have more options in the winter, and she might be more willing to make regular use of a driver she knows than to randomly call for a cab.
posted by trig at 2:21 PM on November 1, 2008

Volunteer work offers a lot of benefits. If there is an organization (like a church) that she could work with, that would be great - maybe answering phones? cooking? You could also help her check out In spring, maybe she would be interested in some small scale gardening. As others have said, a senior center in the community or at a senior group at your place of worship.

Also, check to see if she needs a large print phone, alarm clock or remote control. Maybe some large print playing cards if she plays solitaire.

Let her know that using her brain, especially learning something new, is proven to help maintain mental function so if she is worried, she should channel that worry into doing something and then she take pride in what she has learned. Also, encourage her to exercise - taking a senior exercise class would probably help her physically, socially and mentally.
posted by metahawk at 2:44 PM on November 1, 2008

Is there a duplicate bridge club in her area (assuming that her vision problems allow her to still read playing cards)? Lots of seniors play bridge, and it provides all the intellectual challenge anyone could want.
posted by davetill at 2:49 PM on November 1, 2008

another thought - make sure her home is bright enough - lots of lights with higher watt bulbs. She might also find a hands-free task light/magnifier makes a big difference if she likes to needle work. A hand-held magnifier would help when she needs to read a book, newspaper or phone book.
posted by metahawk at 2:49 PM on November 1, 2008

You mentioned that she's afraid to try things she used to do before she lost some of her vision and that when she does try and hits a vision-related snag, she gets really frustrated. I'd like to second or third finding an organization that works with the blind and visually impaired. They can probably teach her how to do a lot of what she used to do; she's just going to have to learn how to do these things a bit differently.
posted by Flipping_Hades_Terwilliger at 12:59 AM on November 2, 2008

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