Virtually every day more research is focusing on issues impacting senior citizens. One recent example is a study that said keeping the mind active is a key to good health.

As we age, we lose neurons, but these neurons can form new connections. Research is being conducted now to determine if new brain connections develop with mental and physical exercise. Many researchers already believe that is the case.

Contrary to popular belief the brain of a senior citizen is similar to the brain of a healthy young person. But, like muscles in our body, the brain can grow and change.

The harder a person uses their brain, the more it grows and the healthier it becomes.

Each day we commit millions of pieces of data into our short and long term memories.

As we get older, it becomes harder to retrieve because we are on overload. Plus, we don't memorize as easily because we don't practice the skill as often as we did when young.

There are ways to compensate for age-related declines in working memory.

For example, presenting information at a slower pace, organizing and elaborating gives time to process and establish links between new and previously learned information.

I suggest using exercises to improve specific mental functions.

For example, do a daily mental exercise each morning.

You could begin the day by counting out loud backward from 100 or reciting the alphabet giving each letter a word.

Simple activities like setting the table in a different way, trying a new recipe, going to visit a place you have never been before or walking a different route also work the memory.

Many of the same activities that we use to stimulate the minds of young children can be fun and stimulating for us as older adults.

It is true that our brains change and slow as we age but most people do not have serious loss of memory or intelligence.

The key is to try and do something new to keep your brain and mind young.

Jennifer Russell is an area child and family development agent for the Mississippi State University Extension Service. You may contact her at 453-6803 or jtb20@ext.msstate.edu.

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