Memory loss: it’s one of the things people fear the most about aging. While memory loss comes in a variety of shapes and forms, many people imagine themselves unable to remember a loved one’s phone number or forgetting special days.
While these things are a reality for some seniors, memory loss doesn’t have to be an essential component of aging. In fact, people who take proactive steps to improve their memories with age can enjoy a lifetime of mental sharpness and clarity. Read on.
What is Memory Loss?
Memory loss is forgetfulness that exceeds normal levels. For example, a young person may forget the name of a performer for a moment, and then recall it in conversation several minutes later. This is not memory loss. Instead, it’s a standard spell of forgetfulness.
If a senior begins to forget things like whether the stove is turned on, where he or she lives, or whether a visitor is a daughter or a neighbor, this is considered memory loss.
According to Medline Plus, memory loss is caused by normal aging or by injuries to the brain, including brain tumors, concussions or head trauma, brain infections, or stroke.
While most people experience bouts of forgetfulness throughout their lives, memory loss is a problem that is most prevalent in seniors. According to a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 out of every eight seniors experiences memory loss as they age. Surprisingly, this memory loss affects young seniors the most prominently, with 44.7% of older persons between ages 60-64 reporting memory loss.
While some level of memory loss is normal throughout our lives, excessive or ongoing memory loss can be signs of Alzheimer’s or dementia. As such, it is important for people who want to keep their minds healthy as they age to take proactive steps to preventing memory loss.
6 Smart Ways to Improve Your Memory as You Get Older
If you’d like to stave off the effects of memory loss, follow these six tips:
1. Keep learning new things
Learning new things is by far one of the best actions you can take to protect your memory and keep your mind sharp. Harvard Health Publications reports that higher levels of education are associated with improved mental functionality in old age. This may be because of several reasons.
On the one hand, learning new things keeps people in the habit of using their minds, and may translate into higher levels of mental challenge and development with age. On the other hand, learning new things has been shown to help promote neuro-generative activity in the brain, and improve the brain’s ability to make new connections and keep existing connections healthy.
Fortunately, learning new things is simple, and you have many options if you’re interested. Pick up a new hobby or audit a class on a platform like edX. Take a dance class at your local community center or learn a new language.
You don’t have to do something as drastic as going back to school to learn something new. You simply have to dedicate yourself to using your brain and making lifelong learning the top of your to-do list.
2. Don’t buy into the myths about aging and memory loss
The mind-body connection is one that’s often underestimated in our society. When it comes to memory loss, people who believe that aging and memory loss go hand-in-hand may actually experience increased memory loss. In fact, Harvard Health Publications reports that seniors exposed to repeated, negative stereotypes about memory loss and aging do worse on memory tests than their counterparts who avoid the stereotypes.
With this in mind, don’t buy into the myth that aging means an automatic loss of memory. Take proactive steps to keep yourself healthy, and don’t believe the hype.
3. Engage all your various senses
The mind is a “use it or lose it” thing, and engaging all your senses helps keep each of them stronger. Memory works best when all our senses are engaged, and, because of this, it’s typically recommended that seniors pick up new hobbies that engage the senses.
For example, consider cooking. When you make a pizza from scratch, you have the scent of the ingredients, the feel of the dough as you knead it out on the counter, and the sight of bubbling cheese to look forward to.
If pizza isn’t your top priority, you’re not limited to cooking. In fact, any tactile hobby, like pottery, will work beautifully.
4. Focus your memory to where it’s needed most
The mind takes in thousands of tiny bits of information each day and, with age, this can quickly become overwhelming. Because of this, professionals recommend that seniors learn to economize their brainpower. For example, instead of clogging your head up with the 15 things you need to do next Tuesday, write it down in a planner.
By getting it out of your head and onto a sheet of paper, where it’s easy to remember, you free your brainpower up for more important things, like learning new skills, building new relationships, and more.
5. Reinforce your memories with repetition
Repetition is a powerful tool for solidifying memories and making short-term information long-term. With this in mind, use repetition in your daily life to boost your memory as you age. When you meet someone new at a gathering, repeat their name to yourself verbally. When you’re learning a new skill, repeat it several times until you feel like you have it down pat. We can’t expect our brains to perform well without the benefit of repetition, and the simple act of repeating something to ourselves can go a long way toward helping us remember it.
6. Take care of yourself physically
Good nutrition and adequate hydration make all the difference when it comes to protecting your memory. Simple things like inadequate hydration can have a devastating impact on memory, and studies have found that people who eat brain-boosting foods, such as fish, once each week have a massive 60% lower risk of developing dementia as they age.
That said, fortify your diet with plenty of clean, fresh water, foods rich in omega-3s, and healthy fats. Your brain will thank you for it!
Healthy Memories Start With Preventative Care
While conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia do affect some seniors, getting older doesn’t mean your memory must go out the window. With these six tips, it’s easy to take good care of your memory as you age, and enjoy a clear mind and sharp memory throughout your golden years.