Memory loss is a common worry for many people as they age. As you grow older, the cognitive weakness you always have had might become more pronounced. For instance, you’ve never had a particularly good sense of direction, and now you seem to be even more directionally challenged; or you’ve always struggled with word or name recall and now the words or names just don’t or are slower to come to mind; or you’ve always misplaced things and now you seem to be losing things a lot. Rest assured memory lapses don’t necessarily mean you are destined to develop dementia.
Even though there is no guarantee that you won’t develop progressive memory loss or dementia, there are a number of ways to sharpen your memory as well as to live more comfortably with your current “cognitive deficits.”
Stay mentally active.
You’ve probably heard someone say learn a new language or learn to play an instrument. Well, they are right. Stimulating your brain, keeps your brain in shape, just as exercise strengthens your body. Other ways to stimulate your brain are to play games, do puzzles, memorize poetry, read and discuss the newspaper, and so on. Simply put, you want to stay mentally active.
Stay physically active.
OK here it is again. Physical activity might be as close as we get to the fountain of youth. Not only does physical activity keep your body healthy, but it also helps the brain stay healthy. Physical activity increases blood flow to the brain and changes brain chemistry as well. Speak with your physician if you would like an individualized physical activity program.
Eat a healthy diet.
If you eat a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat sources of protein such as fish, chicken, and lean meat, your body and brain will be getting what it needs to stay healthy. Also, limit your alcohol consumption because drinking too much alcohol can lead to confusion and memory loss.
Get Involved with others.
Social isolation can lead to increased depression and stress, and depression and stress can contribute to memory loss. Find ways to seek community, especially if you live alone.
Get enough sleep.
Numerous recent studies show that sleeping helps you consolidate your memories. Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Getting a sufficient amount of sleep is extremely important.
Decluttering your house and creating routines (such as keeping your keys in a specific place) can help jog your memory. Making to “do lists” and putting appointments on a specific calendar may help as well. Try not to overwhelm yourself with lengthy, detailed to “do lists,” and check off all completed tasks! A free electronic app for making lists is Remember the Milk.
Really focusing on what you want to retain, will help you recall it later. People who compete in memory competitions, use techniques such as making up a story or singing a song to associate with what they are trying to remember.
Do consult your primary care physician, if you think your memory loss is interfering with your activities of daily living or might be jeopardizing your safety. Your physician will likely test your memory and problem-solving skills and do some blood work. In some instances, he or she will refer you for more extensive testing.
References and Resources:
1. Sleep for cognitive enhancement - NCBI - NIH.2. Scholarly articles for competitive memory training techniques.
3. Your Memory: How it Works and How to Improve It, by Kenneth Higbee, PhD.
4. Memory Power-Up: 101 Ways to Instant Recall, by Michael Tipper.
5. The Harvard Medical School Guide to Achieving Optimal Memory, by Aaron Nelson, PhD and Susan Gilbert.
6. Strengthen Your Mind: Activities for People with Early Memory Loss, by K Einberger and J Sellick.