A decline in the sharpness of memory, as we grow older, can be disconcerting. Yet, if we take time to check out our concerns with friends of a similar age, we’re soon reassured we’re not the only one. What’s more, research suggests people who suffer from anosognosia (a condition where they are not aware of their memory loss) are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those who are aware of their memory loss. In a practical sense, this means if you can’t remember where you put your car keys, your memory loss is normal for your age. However, if you can’t remember what car keys are used for, that signals a problem. Similarly, there’s no reason to panic, simply because you can’t remember a word (your friends of the same age will almost certainly be going through the same thing). However, if you’re having trouble holding a conversation, check it out with a medical professional.
Just why memory impairment is a problem, is a subject of ongoing investigation. Recently, findings point to the fact older adults are less able to focus on a single event, instead, taking in more information around their surrounding environment than they actually need to. This taking in of extraneous information may be what ‘clutters’ the brain, so that when we want to access a single memory, we have to sift through more information than a younger person would, before we find it.
But brain clutter isn’t all bad; in fact, it can be an advantage. When faced with a problem, having access to a wide range of memories with seemingly little connection to the problem, can actually help solve it. Reassuring though that information may be, it doesn’t help with the everyday problems age-related memory impairment causes. However, following these 5 suggestions may help:
1. Keep socialising – it stimulates the brain. Research shows talking to others can be as effective, in terms of helping memory, as more traditional brain exercises such as crosswords, maths puzzles, learning a new language or instrument or word puzzle, or challenging yourself in online memory games.
2. Keep physically active – it encourages the release of brain chemicals which contribute to the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, the health of our brain’s cells, and the life span of new brain cells. Exercise also helps reduce anxiety and stress which are memory sappers, regardless of age.
3. Enjoy a healthy diet – it’s long been known foods high in fats and sugars cause inflammation in the body. Now, research suggests this inflammation adversely affects the neurons (message carriers) in the brain. It can even inhibit the formation of new neurons.
4. Heart care – research shows one of the key indicators of Alzheimer’s disease is the buildup of amyloid plaque in the brain (amyloid is a type of protein). People with healthy blood vessels are less likely to suffer from this build up. To improve your heart health, look to healthy diet tips and safe ways to engage in cardiovascular exercises to suit your age and fitness levels.
5. Challenge your brain – mental exercises are believed to maintain the brain cells we already have, and to get them communicating with each other, all of which helps with memory. There are dozens of mental exercises for the brain (think crosswords, Sudoku and Wordle), and apps to help you enjoy them. If you like hands-on activities, try chess, Trivial Pursuit, or Scrabble (many games like these can also be played online against a computer generated opponent).
Sharpening your memory, doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, it can be downright fun. Encourage your friends to join you in it as you work toward making your retirement years even more memorable!