New hobbies for older adults’ brain health
- Ham radio
- Paint by numbers
- Diamond painting
- Cleaning cemetery headstones
- Playing drums
- Learning a language
- Metal detecting
- Digitizing historical records
Whether it’s bowling, model trains, knitting or axe throwing, it’s never too late to pick up new hobbies. Not only do hobbies provide a sense of fulfillment and purpose, a recent study also shows they may play an important role in preventing dementia, and researchers found that hobbies (especially ones that engage the brain) are linked to improved memory over time. In fact, dozens of studies have explored how hobbies can increase brain capacity and plasticity, which decreases the risk for Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
When it comes to choosing a hobby for yourself or the older adult you care for, there are no strict rules. Try anything—whatever sounds fun. It might take a few tries to find something that really clicks, but here are some easy-entry hobbies that can help adults of any age fight memory loss and find relaxation.
We know that reading improves memory and concentration, but it also provides an escape. Especially when people lose physical independence, reading is like transportation, allowing the mind to travel anywhere. Magazines or books, fiction, nonfiction, mystery or romance—any kind of reading stimulates brain activity. If your older adult is out of practice, here are some ideas to rekindle their love for reading.
Tying knots in patterns takes practice, but the results are beautiful! Macramé kits for decorative wall art or hanging planters don’t require a huge investment in time or materials. Plus, it’s satisfying to display the finished products or give them as gifts.
How about a real-life treasure hunt? Geocaching takes participants outdoors to search for hidden containers using GPS navigation. All you need is a smartphone and the Geocaching app. Geocachers have fun while reporting added benefits such as physical fitness, relaxation and autonomy.
If electronics and long-distance communications sound interesting, ham radio might be a perfect hobby. Ham radio operators connect to others across the globe using wireless technology. It does require a license and some equipment to get started, but local radio clubs can offer support. Search for a ham radio club in your area.
A camera viewfinder can put a unique perspective on life. Whether using a smartphone, film camera or digital camera, photography can improve attention spans and help older adults see the world in new ways. Try a 30-day photo challenge to boost creativity, or volunteer with Find a Grave to take pictures that help researchers document local cemeteries.
Paint by numbers
Painting develops fine motor skills and relieves stress. A paint by numbers kit offers everything needed to create a masterpiece. Look for kits that come pre-framed and ready to hang.
This newer handicraft uses rhinestones and glue to fill in pre-patterned designs while building hand-eye coordination and improving concentration. Start with a small kit like these coasters for a beautiful project that’s also useful.
Cleaning cemetery headstones
Lichen, mildew, mold and bird droppings can stain cemetery headstones and make them unreadable. With just a few gravestone cleaning supplies, older adults can spend quality time outside restoring loved ones’ stone markers. Become familiar with headstone cleaning basics to ensure the marble or granite isn’t damaged by cleaning.
Learning the drums as an older adult doesn’t just improve coordination, core strength and neuroplasticity—it’s also fun! Senior drum circles can increase memory, visualization, cognitive and creative skills. If you’re concerned about noise levels, a practice quiet pad can keep the decibels down.
Learning a language
It’s never too late to learn a foreign language. Although people with hearing impairments might have a harder time distinguishing sounds, there’s no proof that older adults can’t acquire new language skills. Online apps like Rosetta Stone and Duolingo teach words and phrases in simple, easy-to-understand lessons. For more in-depth study, check with the local library to ask about language courses or conversation practice groups.
Spending time in green spaces benefits the brain. For an activity that offers the chance to spend quality time outdoors (and discover buried treasure), many older adults love metal detecting. An entry-level metal detector is reasonably priced and lightweight—perfect for finding relics, coins or precious metals like gold and silver. Metal detecting groups in your area are a great way to learn about the best local sites and socialize with others.
Many older adults will be familiar with decoupage, a craft technique that uses Mod Podge to decorate surfaces with cut paper. It’s a great hobby to put old magazines, newspapers, wrapping paper or tissue paper to good use. For a fun project, try a little chalk paint and use patterned napkins to decorate terra cotta pots.
Digitizing historical records
Older adults have a superpower that many younger people don’t possess: They can read cursive! History buffs with a personal computer can look at the latest transcription campaigns on the Library of Congress, Smithsonian or National Archives websites and choose an appealing project.
It’s never too late for a hobby
Many of us have witnessed how loved ones can turn to television as their primary leisure activity. Besides the negative physical effects of prolonged sitting, there’s evidence that too much TV causes an increased risk for dementia. This is why it’s so important for all adults to find a hobby and engage with it regularly. It’s never too late to start.
Many activities can be modified to fit with personal preferences or mobility issues. Not only do hobbies serve as a source of relaxation and stress relief, they improve mental and physical well-being—and provide an invaluable sense of accomplishment. Hobbies can also help us meet new people, learn new skills and feel satisfied.
No matter your age, taking time to express creativity and explore new ideas through a hobby leads to better quality of life.