Everyone wants to retain our memory leading into the seniors years but memory loss is a common complaint. Memories are a big part of who we are and when we start losing those precious memories it feels like we are losing a piece of ourselves. A good memory helps us accomplish basic and complex tasks and allows us to remain independent in our senior years.
Our brains are adapted to change, create new neural connections, collect and store important information in its long-term memory. It is also possible to improve and maintain short-term memory (working memory).
The good news is you can improve your memory using these tips that aren’t expensive or time-consuming.
When memorizing a list of numbers, words or items, break them down into smaller groups (example: phone numbers or Social Security number).
Group items by category into easier-to-manage chunks of information.
Acrostics and acronyms
You may recall using the acrostic “Every Apple Does Go Bad Eventually” when learning to play an instrument. You can use this method to remember a sequence of letters you need to remember. Acronyms serve the same purpose to remember. Recall the acronym ‘HOMES’ to remember the five Great Lakes (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior).
Planning and organization
A notebook or day planner that has a calendar is very useful for writing down your various activities and appointments. Writing stuff down helps your brain to put information into long-term memory. At the beginning of each week, create a list of things you’ve planned. Each day you can make a detailed to-do list.
At the end of each day, review and write down your thoughts about the experiences and conversations you had.
Your can keep important information like birthdays, phone numbers and other information you need. A smartphone or digital tablet can also serve is your planner.
Talking out loud
Talking out loud talking about it. For example, if you want to remember something you’re reading, try saying it aloud. If you want to avoid forgetting why you’ve entered a certain room, tell yourself where you’re going—and why—while on the way there. To remember more complex information, try explaining it to someone else.
Reviewing new information multiple times in different ways helps to retain it.
Take notes one day.
In the next couple of days read these notes out loud.
After that you may paraphrase what you’ve writen down to someone else.
Cues and reminders
Set up reminders to help you remember your tasks or information. Place them where you are most likely to see them.
Leave important objects in places that relate to the tasks.
Drawing “absentmindedly” while listening to someone talk or learning something new helps to keep your brain stay alert, connect various pieces of information, and retain that information for later use.
Healthy body, healthy mind. A 30 minute daily walk is one of the best things you can do to keep your mind sharp.
Oxygen levels to the brain are increased and helpful brain chemicals are triggered.
Nerve cells are multipled and their performance strengthened.
Exercise decreases stress and promotes good sleep.
Try to exercise at least three times a week. Start with a 10 or 20-minute walk and slowly build up your duration.
Exercise improves mood by supplying endorphins which reduces the risk of depression and improves appetite as well. These benefits will improve social interaction which also improves memory.
Dancing is a fun way to improve memory. It requires hand-body coordination and calls on your memory bank to recall the steps and moves.
Remove Distractions and Sources of Stress
Stress and unnecessary distractions act as major barriers to the creation and retrieval of memories. Your brain can only process so much information at any one time so when your cognitive load is bigger than you can handle, you can’t learn and process new knowledge as effectively. Try these tips to help you deal with stress and distractions.
Do one thing at a time instead of multitasking.
Take a break between activities, perhaps meditating. Daily meditation strengthens the brain’s cerebral cortex which is responsible for decision making, attention, and memory.
Spend at least 10 seconds processing each new piece of information before moving on.
Share how you are feeling with other people.
Learn how to say no.
Limit your time online. It’s easy to get distracted with meaningless and unimportant information.
While we sleep our bodies optimize and consolidate newly acquired information and store it as memory. 6-9 hours of sleep a night are best to achieve optimum physical and mental health by triggering changes in the brain.
Sleep helps to transfer memories from short-term to long-term memory. This means the new memories you make are more likely to stay with you. If your sleep is frequently disrupted, your recent memories remain fragmented. You can’t put the pieces together as well and can’t clearly remember what you did learn that day. Here are some tips to help you sleep better.
Make your bedroom darker, quieter, cooler, and more comfortable.
Dim the lights at least an hour before bedtime including the living room or where you spend your time in the evenings.
Keep your sleep schedule consistent by going to bed and waking up at the same times. Adjust your schedule to go to bed when you are sleepy and stick to that schedule.
Reduce or eliminate your consumption of caffeine, especially after noon. Avoid alcohol in the few hours before bedtime.
Turn off the TV, computer, and any other backlit screen-based electronics an hour or more before bedtime.
Be sure to go outside during the day or in a sunlit room to get at least a couple of hours of sunshine.
Wear earplugs or sleep in a separate room if your partner has a snoring problem.
Socializing is a great way to avoid memory decline. Making time with friends and family improves your communication and cognitive skills. Mentally sharp seniors seek out opportunities to socialize and have fun. Try the following tips to improve your social skills.
Join clubs based on interests like reading, gardening, doing crafts or sports.
Make friends with other people who have a great sense of humor and make you laugh.
Hosting parties based on funny themes.
Plan some day trips or fun day outings with positive people.
Volunteer for cause you are passionate about
Hopefully you are receiving the vitamins and minerals you need from food and sunshine. However many seniors don’t or can’t eat a variety of foods to ensure an adequate amount of nutrients. If this is the case for you, supplements can be helpful.
Before you start on a regimen of supplements, check in with your health care team (doctors, pharmacist, naturopath) after doing blood work to determine deficiencies. Low levels of vitamins B1, B12 and D are associated with memory dysfunction certain types of dementia.
Listed below are supplements that are relatively safe and vital to brain and memory function.
Omega-3 fatty acids – Supports proper blood flow in certain parts of the brain associated with cognitive performance. Proper blood flow supports memory and decreases the risk of developing dementia.
Vitamin B12 – Low vitamin B12 may affect cognition by reducing total brain volume.
Vitamin B1 – B1 or thiamine helps improve concentration and memory.
Vitamin D – Regulates the immune system and helps with calcium balance. It regulates genes important for brain function. Although vitamin D is thought of as a vitamin, it acts as a neurosteroid and plays important roles in the brain.
Vitamin E – Is an antioxidant that helps with brain health by reducing oxidative stress.
The following have shown some evidence of improving memory, but as always, check in with your health care first:
Curcumin – improves heart health and helps to prevent Alzheimer’s and cancer. It’s an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. It also helps to improve symptoms of depression and arthritis.
Ginkgo biloba – The components flavonoids and terpenoids found in ginkgo have power antioxidant qualities and help improve circulation by dilating blood vessels and reducing the “stickiness” of platelets
Caffeine – Caffeine has been found to improve memory and decrease fatigue. It can improve your short-term memory and speed up your reaction times.
Asian ginseng – Asian ginseng is an Antioxidant that helps rid the body of free radicals, which damage DNA and contribute to heart disease, diabetes, and other conditions.
Bacopa monnieri – Bacopa monnieri has been used to improve memory, reduce anxiety, and treat epilepsy. It may boost brain function and alleviate anxiety and stress.
Alpha-GPC – Alpha-GPC contains choline which boosts acetylcholine in the brain and protects the nerves. It has been shown to help with cognitive decline and dementia, including Alzheimer’s.
Huperzine A – Huperzine A is a cholinesterase inhibitor that improves the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain. It may also improve memory and protect nerve cells, which could slow the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s.
DHEA – DHEA supplements may help people with depression, obesity, lupus, and adrenal insufficiency. It may improve skin in older people and help treat osteoporosis, vaginal atrophy, erectile dysfunction, and some psychological conditions.
You can read further on how aging affects our nutritional needshere.