Improving Memory in Seniors: Everyday Things You Can Do
How to Improve Your Memory
We all start to notice some changes in our ability to remember things as we grow older. Most of the momentary memory problems that we experience with age reflect normal changes in the structure and function of the brain. Forgetting where we left our keys happens at any age, but we seem to get more upset by memory lapses as we get older, because we fear they’re a sign of dementia or loss of intellectual function.
The fact is, significant memory loss in older adults isn’t a normal part of aging. It’s due to organic disorders, brain injury or neurological illness, with Alzheimer’s being among the most feared. Only about one to two in 10 people over the age of 65 develop mild cognitive impairment. And only around 15 percent of those people develop Alzheimer’s.
Seniors who take proactive steps to prevent memory loss are often more adaptable, independent and satisfied during later years. That’s because the human brain has an amazing ability to change, collect new information, create new neural connections, and store important information in its long-term memory. By developing good habits and seeking out new learning opportunities, you can also improve your memory.
Plus, the field of neuroscience is still relatively young. With each passing year, scientists are making new discoveries about the human brain. In the future, we may be able to retrieve “lost” memories and improve our cognitive abilities with brain implants or targeted electrical stimulation. Genetic research may also lead to preventive therapies or targeted treatments that stop or reverse memory loss.
Thanks to decades of research, there are many memory games, activities and strategies you can use to improve your memory right now. Here are some you might try.
Challenging your brain with mental exercise is believed to activate processes that help maintain individual brain cells and stimulate communication among them. Building and preserving brain connections is an ongoing process, so make lifelong learning a priority. Read, join a book group, play bridge or chess, write your life story, do crossword or jigsaw puzzles, take a class or pursue music or art. You can even turn everyday activities into brain games by challenging yourself to memorize a shopping list or take an alternative route when driving.
There are now also many memory games for seniors that can be played on phones, tablets and computers. Luminosity and Dakim are well-known brain exercise apps that require setting up an account, but there are also plenty of online sites where you can play games like Sudoku and memory matching games for free. AARP’s Staying Sharp website also has a variety of brain games for older adults.
Many physicians like to say that if something is good for your heart, then it’s probably good for your brain as well. Physical activity increases blood flow to your whole body, including your brain. By regularly doing activities that increase your heart rate and get your blood pumping more quickly, you can boost the amount of oxygen your brain receives. And that may lead to memory improvements and other cognitive benefits. It will also lower your risk of getting certain diseases that can cause memory loss.
Social interaction helps ward off depression and stress, both of which can contribute to memory loss. Look for opportunities to get together with loved ones, friends and others — especially if you live alone.
A healthy diet might be as good for your brain as it is for your heart. Eat fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Choose low-fat protein sources, such as fish, beans and skinless poultry. What you drink counts, too. Regularly overindulging in alcohol can lead to confusion and memory loss.
Sleep plays an important role in helping you consolidate your memories so you can recall them down the road. Make getting enough sleep a priority. Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep a day.
Do you ever just let your mind wander freely, without consciously trying to think about anything in particular? It turns out that this kind of wakeful rest can have a positive effect on your memory, especially if it occurs after a period of learning. By taking at least 10 or 15 minutes to avoid any kind of activity or deliberate mental effort, your mind can more efficiently consolidate the information you learned and store it in your long-term memory. It’s similar to what happens when you sleep.
Manage chronic conditions
Follow your doctor’s treatment recommendations for medical conditions such as depression, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity and hearing loss. The better you take care of yourself, the better your memory is likely to be. In addition, review your medications with your doctor regularly, as some medications can affect memory.
You’re more likely to forget things if your home is cluttered and things are in disarray. Jot down tasks, appointments and other events in a notebook, calendar or electronic planner.
You might even repeat each entry out loud as you jot it down to help cement it in your memory. Keep to-do lists current and check off items you’ve completed. Set aside a place for your wallet, keys, glasses and other essentials.
Limit distractions and don’t do too many things at once. If you focus on the information that you’re trying to retain, you’re more likely to recall it later. It might also help to connect what you’re trying to retain to a favorite song or another familiar concept.
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