Simple Steps for Improving Your Memory
“As you get older three things happen. The first is your memory goes, and I can’t remember the other two.” — Norman Wisdom
The Norman Wisdom joke is good for a laugh, but there is no doubt that older individuals also feel a little prickle of anxiety whenever they forget where they put their car keys, can’t remember where they left their grocery list, or blank on the name of a neighbor they’ve known for years, fearing that these instances of forgetfulness are early signs of more severe memory loss.
Small lapses in memory are inevitable at every stage of life, but become problematic when they affect the activities of daily living. No one formula can prevent memory loss or dementia, but there are some simple steps you can take that might sharpen and even improve your memory as you age.
Get Physical: Get off the couch and get physical. Activities of any kind that get you moving increase blood flow to your entire body, including the brain, that aids in keeping your memory sharp. Aim for at least 150 minutes a week of moderate activity such as walking, hiking, dancing, or aerobics; that’s just a little more than 20 minutes per day, which makes it a very doable goal.
Keep Your Mind Active: Learning a new skill helps to improve cognitive function and memory. There are numerous ways to challenge yourself: learn to play a musical instrument, engage in activities that involve hand-eye coordination (ping pong anyone?), do crossword puzzles or Sudoku, take various routes when driving to familiar destinations, or volunteer in your community.
Get Social: Social activities are important in maintaining an older person’s mental health and memory, warding off depression and stress, both of which can contribute to memory loss. Getting together with family and friends or attending events are wonderful opportunities to improve your social well-being. Research has shown that even 10 minutes per day of socializing has a positive effect on memory.
Get Enough Sleep: Sleep is an important factor in improving a person’s memory. According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep triggers changes in the brain that consolidate memories, helping you to recall them later on. Most people need between six and nine hours of sleep each night.
Eat Well: Limit your intake of red meat, dairy, and fried and processed foods, all of which negatively impact heart health and can damage your brain. A diet that includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, fish, chicken, beans and olive oil has been shown to be good for both your cardiovascular and cognitive health.
Manage Chronic Conditions: It’s important to follow your doctor’s recommendations for conditions like 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,” say the experts at the Mayo Clinic.
Writing down things that you want to remember and saying them out loud as you write further reinforces what you want to recall. Keeping lists of tasks and appointments and checking them off as they are completed can be helpful, too. And limit multi-tasking. It’s much easier to recall something you want to remember later if you focus on the information you are trying to retain, rather than trying to remember several things simultaneously. The Mayo Clinic also suggests keeping your house de-cluttered, as it’s easier to remember where you’ve put things when your living space is neat and organized.
If you are frequently forgetful, particularly if memory loss has a negative impact on your daily activities, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with your health care practitioner to discuss your concerns. Treatment depends on various factors that can contribute to memory loss. Sometimes, it’s as simple as changing your medications.
Shannon Lynch is the Executive Director of The Morrison Communities, which includes the Morrison Skilled Nursing Facility, Sartwell Place Assisted Living, Morrison Rehabilitation, and Summit by Morrison, a senior living community offering independent living, assisted living, memory care and respite care.
The Morrison Communities is a non-profit 501©(3) charitable community that has been providing quality healthcare to residents of New Hampshire’s North Country since 1903.