8 Ways to Protect Your Memory
When you think about your own aging process, what concerns you the most? Did you know that more people report apprehension about memory loss than about heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis or any other condition?
It is true that we experience memory changes as we age. Our speed of recollection and the amount of detail we remember decline. We become more likely to experience the classic “absentmindedness,” especially when we are “multitasking” and not paying full attention.
On the other hand, for most of us, many aspects of memory will remain pretty much the same: our vocabulary and language skills, reasoning and logic, the ability to pay attention, acquired skills like playing the guitar or cooking an omelet…and that special quality that we usually refer to as “wisdom.”
As with so many aspects of aging, sharpness of memory varies from individual to individual. Some of this is hereditary…yes, genes are a factor. But just as you can keep your body in shape by following a wellness regimen, there are also steps you can take to make it more likely that your memory will remain sound.
- Remember to…practice good nutrition. We can choose foods that help protect memory. The good news is, if you are one of the many adults who try to follow a “heart smart” diet, you are also on track for “memory smart” menu choices. Avoid: cholesterol, saturated fats, trans fats. Choose: fish, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats such as olive oil or canola oil. Even on a day-to-day basis, nourishing meals improve alertness and help us retain memories. Take a multivitamin if your healthcare provider recommends it—but don’t take megadoses that could be toxic.
- Remember to…stay physically active. Just as a “heart smart” diet helps protect the brain, heart-strengthening aerobic exercise also helps ward off Alzheimer’s disease, stroke and other memory-damaging conditions. Obesity has been found to be a risk factor for dementia, so maintain a healthy weight. Talk to your healthcare provider about an exercise program that is right for you.
- Remember to…sleep well. You’ve probably noticed that when you don’t get enough good quality sleep, it is harder to concentrate the next day. And did you know that memories of the day are “filed away” in the brain while we sleep? People who suffer from sleep disturbances often experience memory problems. But many sleep disorders are treatable, so speak to your healthcare provider if you experience trouble falling asleep, bothersome wakeful periods during the night, or snoring (which might suggest sleep apnea—a disorder that causes interruption in breathing during sleep).
- Remember to…treat depression and avoid stress. Both cause chemical changes in the brain that can be so severe that a person’s family or physician mistakenly suspects Alzheimer’s or other dementia. Depression and stress also raise the risk that a person will develop Alzheimer’s. If you are feeling overly stressed, or if depression is making it hard for you to focus and concentrate, talk with your healthcare provider. Counseling, meditation and other relaxation techniques can all help.
- Remember to…quit smoking and limit alcohol consumption. Many substances found in cigarette smoke damage the brain and impair memory. And while a number of studies suggest that drinking in moderation might actually be beneficial, having more than a drink or two per day can be toxic to the brain.
- Remember to…challenge your mind and memory. Mental stimulation encourages new connections between brain cells…so when it comes to the memory, “use it or lose it” isn’t just a cliché. Seek out a variety of mentally challenging activities! Learn a new skill—take up an instrument or study a foreign language. Join a club, volunteer, find extra ways to stay socially connected. Start a Facebook page. Visit a museum or work a difficult puzzle. Passive activities, such as watching TV, don’t offer the same benefits.
- Remember to…have a memory fitness strategy. It is actually possible to increase memory sharpness through training. Visualization, concentration and other effective memory skill techniques skills improve the retention and accessing of memories. You can also use memory aids to compensate for forgetfulness. People of every age use supplemental technology—from simple sticky notes to smartphone reminders.
- Remember to…have your healthcare provider review your medications. Our lives are improved and extended by many of the medicines we take—but overmedication and the side effects of some drugs can dull the memory. Common culprits: tranquilizers, sleeping pills, pain medications, high blood pressure drugs. Your physician may switch you to a different drug or dosage to lessen the effect.
Why add stress to your life by worrying about your memory? Learn about the normal memory changes associated with aging, do all you can to take care of your brain, check out memory compensation strategies…and relax, knowing you’re doing everything you can to keep your memory strong through your later years.