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Yes, You Can Use Tech to Keep Your Brain Engaged

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Recently, Laurie Sterling’s 88-year-old mother started texting and sending cheerful hello messages and emojis to her grandchildren. “She’s delighted with getting quick responses to her cheerful hello messages with emojis,” says Sterling, MSW, LICSW, ChT, who’s a transformational results coach at Dream To Reality. “One of the most pervasive problems seniors face is loneliness due to isolation. Some of the best ways to age healthfully are to tap into tech to learn and stay connected to others. Laptops, tablets and smartphones can be wonderful tools to practice new skills and play games.”

Using screen time wisely helps seniors and those with physical limitations to stay mentally active. “As part of the body, our brains are in a constant state of wanting to move and go,” says Kevon Owen, M.S., LPC, a Jones, OK-based clinical psychotherapist who’s experienced in working with seniors. “Staying mentally active keeps the brain in a place where it problem solves, overcomes challenges and achieves various goals, which fight depression and anxiety.”

“Many of us fear short-term memory loss or dementia as we age,”  Sterling says. “Research has shown that there are many lifestyle choices that can protect our mental faculties,” she says. “Our brains love novelty, which means it’s essential to continue learning by engaging in new activities, such as playing games, doing art projects, taking classes, and most importantly, staying social.” Dementia has also been linked to hearing loss, which impacts many seniors. 

Get Ready to Do Some Mental Exercise

Just like you can do physical exercise to improve your body’s health, you can do mental exercises to keep your brain agile. And, thankfully, there are lots of tech resources that you can use. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 15% of the world’s senior population contends with mental health issues,¹ including Alzheimer’s, dementia, depression or anxiety. 

“Engaging our brains in activities means that our neurons are firing—and when our neurons fire, the important pathways in the brain continue to light up,” says Katie Krimer, MA, LCSW, a psychotherapist and founder of Growspace. “Neurons that fire together, wire together! This means that the active-and-engaged communication remains strong at a time when we might otherwise see a more rapid mental decline.”

Scans of the human brain show that various areas “light up” when they’re engaged by problem-solving activities or even just conversations. But if these areas aren’t activated regularly, they can become slower to respond, just as muscles deteriorate with lack of use. That’s why it’s so important to exercise your brain regularly. Technology makes brain-activities even easier—and more transportable.

Here are our top 10 brain technology activities you can use to challenge your brain.

  1. Online crossword puzzles: In Hellen Ellis’ collection of humorous essays, Southern Lady Code, she believes in preventative care, “A crossword a day keeps Alzheimer’s away.”

  2. In fact, studies have long shown that crossword and other puzzles can keep the brain fit. And it is this type of cognitive activity which can greatly hold back mental issues such as Alzheimer’s and senile dementia.

    Crossword puzzles help especially with problem solving and memory recall. Today, of course, you don’t have to work on the New York Times crossword with a pen. Instead, try online crossword puzzle apps that give you hints if you’re stuck.

    One of our favorites is Crossword Puzzle Free, which you can download to your smartphone or tablet. If you want to try your wits against the New York Times crossword makers, then try this free app for a great mental challenge. Either one of these apps will provide you with plenty of puzzles to keep your mind busy without having to carry a crossword puzzle book.

  3. Sudoku: If numbers are more your thing, consider a Sudoku app. This fun numbers game involves filling in grids so each number (1-9) is represented only once going vertically and horizontally and in the 9x9 grid. This particular puzzle helps your brain work on its logic centers by eliminating possible wrong answers as you go.

    Websudoku has four puzzles of the day ranging from Easy to Evil, so you can get your fix without having to download an app. Or you can try Sudoku Mega Bundle for your iOS or Android devices. This has four different levels of puzzles, but it also features over 100 variations on the basic puzzle. Try the Samurai Sudoku for a serious challenge!

    “I recently helped a 93-year-old client get set up on her new iPad,” Krimer says. “Although she wasn’t very physically mobile, she accessed a whole world of activities right in front of her. She did a lot of Sudoku to keep her brain active.”

  4. Meditation apps: Cognitive activity doesn’t have to be stimulated only with mental brainteasers. You can achieve lots of benefits with meditation. “Due to a decline of self-esteem that we start seeing at age 60 and older, great meditation and mindfulness apps can help seniors maintain their sense of self,” Krimer says.

    If you aren’t sure about how to meditate, apps like Breethe provide you with guided mindfulness activities to help you rest and relax. These apps also include relaxing mood music and even short, week-long courses you can listen to to improve your self-esteem. Meditation can improve sleep (which helps with brain activity), but also alleviates issues such as anxiety and depression.

  5. Music: Since we never want to be without our favorite tunes, one of the easiest things to access online today is music. Gone are the days of being tied down to records, cassettes or CDs. Now, you can relax with streaming music from Pandora, Apple, Amazon, Spotify or iHeartRadio, anywhere, anytime.

    Many of these apps have free versions or you can upgrade to ad-free for a monthly fee. You can set up your personal playlist of music to de-stress your mind and body. “You can even look up songs you grew up with,” Sterling says. “It’s great being able to listen to them again and also get suggestions of more songs from that genre you may have forgotten.”

  6. E-books: Audible is a popular app for listening to your favorite books. If reading tiny print is hard or if you like to hear your books while cooking, exercising or hitting the treadmill, the Audible app will revolutionize your book reading experience. You can even score free audiobooks from Librivox and many public libraries. For people with hearing loss, you can stream the sound directly into Bluetooth hearing aids.

  7. Chess and strategy games: Board games have been used for years to keep people’s mental skills sharp. Now with technology, these strategy games are available in tech form. You can play against other people or the game can be your opponent. Chess is a popular strategy game—and there are hundreds of options available

    If you want a strategy game with a bit of a twist, try these options. (We’re particularly fond of Catan and Plants vs. Zombies!)

  8. Diaries and journals: Another great activity for seniors looking to stave off mental decline is keeping a diary or a journal. What makes this especially helpful is you can re-read your entries to trigger your memory centers. 

    Journey is a top journal app that can give you a more positive attitude, while helping you to set up a daily gratitude practice as you take a look at all the good things around you. If you want to explore other options, you can check out other apps such as Diarum and Day One. 

    If you download a diary app to your smartphone, you can set a reminder to login and add your thoughts. That way, you’ll be alerted if you haven’t written anything for the day, so you can stay on track.

  9. Online communities and social media: You can heighten your mental acuity with a good burst of social interaction. Sitting down for a conversation with a group of friends can do wonders for your memory and reasoning centers of the brain. 

    Unfortunately, physical health and isolation can cause seniors to feel as if they’re cut off from their friends and family. That’s where online social communities can be great. Super Senior Connector is one such community geared specifically toward seniors so they can interact with folks their own age. 

    Of course, nothing really beats the social aspect of media giant Facebook, which can connect you with friends and family you may not get to see as much as you like. “You can also use Facebook Messenger video, Apple FaceTime or Skype for real-time, face-to-face interaction with people you don’t get to visit with often,” Owen says. 

  10. Alexa, Google and Siri: These home management devices can do a lot more than answer questions about the day’s weather. You can use them to sharpen your mind by playing trivia games. Many also partner with Audible and other apps to play audiobooks, a great way to keep your mind active, if you experience eyesight issues.

  11. E-learning: You’re never too old to learn. In fact, many colleges offer educational extension classes for seniors who want to get more knowledge about topics such as history, cooking, photography, computers and more.

    “E-learning is one of the greatest reasons technology is beneficial to seniors—not only because it allows your mind to stay active, but it gives you access to the world, and allows you to learn and to communicate in a new way,” Krimer says.

If you can’t make it to your local community college, there are many online options that bring learning to you. If you’d like to try something a little more intellectually taxing, try The Great Courses online, which features courses and lectures in everything from history and philosophy to science and mathematics.

Just because you’re retired, “brain drain” doesn’t ever have to get the best of you. These top 10 tech tools, apps and resources are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to staying active online. At this time in your life, it’s more important than ever to keep your mind active, especially with the availability of tech that you can personalize to your own interests—and that are a lot of fun to use!

¹ https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-health-of-older-adults Accessed February 24, 2020.

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