How to Improve Your Memory as You Age
Do you feel the need to improve your memory as you age? It’s scary to think about losing your memory when you're at age 50, 60, or 70+. Have you ever asked yourself or others, “Where did I put my keys?” or “Where are my eyeglasses?” My husband asks me these questions all the time.
People of any age may forget things at times. That’s all right. But if significant memory loss happens, elderly or not, it may be necessary to see a doctor to check for a neurological illness like Alzheimer’s disease.
Brain Changes in Older Adults
10 Ways to Improve Memory
If you’re worried that you’re becoming forgetful too often, then you have to read through this article. Studies tell us that there are ways to improve memory that are applicable to all people of any age. If you like to keep your brain youthful and healthy well into old age, consider the following suggestions:
1. Eat Right
Avoid processed foods and sugary snacks. Eat nutrient dense foods like complex, carbohydrates, lean protein, fruits, and vegetables. If you’re not eating the “superfoods,” you’re missing out on a lot of key nutrients.
If you can only include a few foods in your diet, choose these power foods that keep the brain healthy:
- Eggs are a complete source of protein. It has all the essential amino acids that your body needs. They are rich in vitamins D, B6 and B12, selenium, zinc, copper, and iron—all which help boost brain power. The B vitamins in particular help lower levels of homocysteine, which could increase the risk of dementia. Eggs are also rich in choline, a precursor of acetylcholine, which is a neurotransmitter that keeps the brain alert and awake. The unsaturated fats in the egg yolk are also good for brain health.
- Tuna is an excellent source of amino acids and omega-3 fatty acids, but don’t eat more than one small can a day because of the potentially high mercury content.
- Red grapes are rich in resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant. Resveratrol can help prevent free radicals from damaging the brain and causing brain tumor or Alzheimer’s disease.
- Coconut oil contains medium chain triglycerides (MCT), which stimulates the liver to produce ketones. The brain uses ketones as an alternative source of energy and actually uses it to perform certain tasks.
- Coffee contains caffeine that gives a boost in concentration, wakefulness, and memory. It is neuroprotective and helps prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
Other foods that are healthy for the brain include asparagus, blueberries, cocoa, walnuts, tomato sauce, red wine, and salmon.
2. Engage in Moderate to Vigorous Exercise Regularly.
How does exercise keep the brain healthy?
As a person grows older, the brain starts to shrink because it doesn’t grow new brain cells as fast as it used to. Exercise increases heart rate and improves blood flow to the brain. This helps transport oxygen-rich blood to the brain and encourages new brain cells to grow.
According to Dr. Sam Wang, an associate professor of neuroscience at Princeton University, aerobic exercise is two to three times as effective as any brain-training activity. Increasing the heart rate for 20 minutes at least three times a week bathes the brain in oxygen, which helps it to grow new brain cells.
If you can’t be that active, at least do a moderate to vigorous exercise once a week. Recent research tells us that doing so helps maintain cognitive function as you age by 30%. Regular exercise also helps lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Several Elderly Men and Women Performing Aerobics at the Rockville Senior Center
3. Exercise Your Brain
Mental exercise promotes brain cell growth and better function of the brain. It can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. It strengthens your brain reserve as you grow older and helps you to respond and adapt to mental changes.
How do you exercise your brain? Keep learning. Develop new interests and skills—partake in new activities, and continue to learn new things that will maximize your brain reserve.
Playing brain games is a good way to exercise your brain. What are some good brain games? Here are a few:
- crossword puzzles
- puzzle games and board games
- quizzes and trivia games
Brain Games for Seniors
4. Sleep Well and Avoid Stress
When you get a good night sleep, you wake up in a good mood and you have more brain power. Sleep refreshes your brain so you can focus and concentrate better on your mental tasks.
Be sure to avoid stress as well. The stress hormone cortisol can cause memory loss and mental decline. Studies show that low cortisol levels encourage the growth of new nerve cells in an area of the brain called dentate gyrus, which is part of the hippocampus where new memories are created. Too much stress can bring down the number of brain cells in the dentate gyrus. So, be sure to address the causes of stress in your life.
People who engage in social activities with other people enjoy better brain health. So, don’t spend your life all alone. Spend time with other people. Engage in conversations. Stay in touch with your family and friends.
Socialize with Other Seniors
6. Reduce Your Risk for Old Age Health Problems
The likelihood of developing dementia is associated with medical problems like diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and depression. Do your best to control your health risks by following healthy lifestyle habits. Avoid smoking, excessive alcohol, head trauma, stress and anxiety.
7. Use All Your Senses
When all your senses are involved in learning, more senses will also be involved in retaining the memory. One study involved showing images and their corresponding odors to a group of adults without instructing them to remember the images. Later, images were presented again to the same group without presenting any odor. When asked which image they had seen before, they had good recollection of those images paired with an odor especially those with pleasant smells.
8. Believe in Yourself
What you believe about your ability to control your memory function contributes to your likely memory loss or retention. If you think negatively about your aging memory, or you often joke about how forgetful you are, that contributes to a more likely cognitive decline. But if you're positive that you can preserve your memory well into old age, that translates to a better chance of having a sharp mind.
9. Manage Your Brain Use
If you could avoid using your mental energy on things like remembering where you put your eyeglasses, or recalling the birthday of your grandson, you'll have more mental energy on learning or remembering new things. Here are some ideas on how to manage your brain use:
- Make it a habit to put things like your wallet, keys and eyeglasses on designated places. This way you don't have to remember where you might have put your stuff.
- Write on calendars, planners and lists to take note of things you need or want to know such as dates of birthdays, addresses, telephone numbers, to-dos, etc.
- Use repetition to help you remember what you've just heard, read, or known about. For example, repeat the name of someone you just met several times while having a conversation with him or her.
10. Beware of the Medications You Take
Be careful with over-the-counter sleep aids you use. Reports say that there are sleep aids that have been linked to some form of cognitive impairment in older adults.
There are also allergy and pain medications like diphenhydramine that has an "anticholinergic" effect, which block the communication between nerve cells. Consult your doctor if you're not sure about your medicine and always follow the proper dosage.
Take time to follow some or all of these suggestions. Take care of your brain and it will take care of your memories.
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