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Senior Health

Dimensions of Wellness - Part 4: Intellectual Wellness

Fear of losing mental faculties, and perhaps independence, is often considered the worst-case scenario of aging. For some older people it may trigger near panic when they experience an episode of natural forgetfulness. As we age, a large percentage of older adults will experience minor memory impairments and slower cognitive processing ability. We often use phrases that are negative and demeaning such as "I'm having a senior moment?" or we buy into the lie that "You can't teach an old dog new tricks".

There is great potential for harm to people when they believe the negative myths and stereotypes about aging and brain deterioration. As professionals, we know the importance of educating older people and their families regarding the evidence that intellectual debilitation is not inevitable as we age. Challenges to our intellect do not naturally result in deterioration of mental faculties.1

Did you know...
Intellectual wellness involves engagement in creative and stimulating mental activities, broadening our horizons, opening our minds, using available resources to learn and discovering the world around us.

Changes in the brain tend to be individual and are influenced by the inter-related nature of physical, psychosocial, cultural, socioeconomic, spiritual and environmental aspects. Experience with older adults teaches that the majority of people remain capable of learning, making judgments, thinking critically, reasoning, and living independently. Studies indicate that there are several positive aspects to the aging brain and, after two decades of research, indicate that "healthy older brains are often as good as or better than younger brains in a wide variety of tasks".2

Did you know about these positives aspects?

Professionals working with older adults need to be knowledgeable about common risks that lead to compromised cognition and may impact intellectual vitality.

Selected Risk Factors

Other risks involve personal and lifestyle choices such as smoking, lack of sufficient sleep, poor eating habits, and cultural and socioeconomic influences. Intellectual wellness is a critical component that influences overall quality of life. The aging brain and its intellectual capacity must be challenged or it may deteriorate. Use it, or lose it!

Professional assessment for intellectual wellness includes questions related to older adults' understanding of the realities of the aging brain, comprehensive evaluation of mental and physical status, psychosocial, spiritual and environmental aspects. To help older adults enhance their intellectual wellness, professionals need to provide suggestions such as the following:

Tips for Improving Brain Fitness

Control/Mastery Activities (such as)

Recommended Resources - Evelyn's Picks


  1. Miller, C. (2004). Nursing for Wellness in Older Adults: Theory and Practice. 4th Edition. Philadelphia: Williams, Lippincott Williams & Wilcott.
  2. Cohen, G.D.(2005) The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain. New York: Basic Books.
  3. Miller (2004).
  4. Ibid.

GERO GEMS is a monthly publication of the Center for Aging with Dignity. Compiled by Evelyn Fitzwater, this publication is designed to raise awareness of aging and related issues impacting health care professionals and our society as a whole.

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Last Reviewed: Mar 10, 2009

Evelyn L Fitzwater, DSN, RN Evelyn L Fitzwater, DSN, RN
Associate Professor Emerita
Associate Director of the
College of Nursing
University of Cincinnati