Keeping our Memory Strong
Updated: Sep 2, 2021
Tips for Aging Well
Years before my father died, he fretted that his memory wasn’t as sharp as it had been. He was fearful he was losing his memory or possibly getting dementia. I would reassure him that I could not detect any forgetfulness on his part. And I couldn’t.
I believe it’s very common that as we age, we dread losing memories and will exaggerate the significance of the slightest bit of forgetfulness. At times, I have difficulty recalling specific names, locations, dates, even people or any number of things, but most pertain to something that occurred years ago. Fortunately, Siri can usually supply the answer if the information is in the public domain. Forgetting what I ate for breakfast would be a different matter and thankfully that hasn’t happened.
The other morning, I woke up and said, “Jeff Chandler!” The name came to me within minutes of waking. The day before I had been trying to remember a movie star from the 1950s who’s voice reverberated, like an echo, and had starred in a movie about Apache Indians. An actor on Hallmark (yes, I watch Hallmark) has a similar voice and reminded me of Chandler but I couldn’t remember his name. Apparently, my mind had been on ‘search’ all night and was waiting for me to wake up. Perhaps, the lesson is that at age eighty we have a lot more memory files than we did when we were younger, and it just takes a while to find something. (In the 1950 movie Broken Arrow, Chandler played Cochise and Jimmy Stewart played Tom Jeffords who tries to make peace between the settlers and the Apache in the Arizona territory.)
But like my father, memory loss is something I do think about. I decided to look into what the medical community has to say about it and how to keep my memory sharp. I read that there are no guarantees when it comes to preventing memory loss or dementia, but that certain activities might help. Here’s a quick summary.
1. Less Sitting, More Moving
Physical activity increases blood flow to your whole body, including your brain and helps keep your memory sharp. If you don't have time or the capability for sustained walks, the Mayo Clinic recommends several 10-minute walks throughout the day.
A study done by the Center for Brain Health at The University of Texas at Dallas showed that seniors who engaged in physical activities such as using a stationary bike or treadmill for only one hour three times a week for twelve weeks showed improvements in mental health in as few as six weeks.
2. Stay Mentally Active
Just as physical activity helps keep your body in shape, mentally stimulating activities help keep your brain in shape—and might keep memory loss at bay. Mental activities such as crossword puzzles, Sudoku, reading, writing, or reciting birth dates are helpful. Anything that makes us think is good. For specific mental exercises, see https://www.caringseniorservice.com/blog/top-5-memory-games-for-seniors
3. Socialize Regularly
Social interaction helps ward off depression and stress, both of which can contribute to memory loss. Look for opportunities to get together with loved ones, friends, and others—especially if you live alone. Many studies have shown that it is crucial for seniors' mental health and memory to maintain social activity. Research has even shown that as little as ten minutes of social interaction a day can help.
4. Sleep Well
Sleep plays an important role in helping to consolidate your memories, so you can recall them later. According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep actually triggers changes in the brain that solidify memories, strengthens connections between brain cells, and helps in transferring memories from short to long-term. Between six and nine hours of sleep is enough for most seniors. Personal note: After getting up four times a night for several nights, I figured out what I was doing wrong. For dinner, I was eating a soupy stew that I had made, and loving it by the way, but it was too much liquid for that late in the day. Once I strained out the goodies in the stew and left the soup behind, the problem was solved. Uninterrupted sleep is the goal.
5. Eat a Healthy Diet
A healthy diet might be as good for your brain as it is for your heart. Eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Choose low-fat protein sources, such as fish, beans, and skinless poultry. According to Harvard Health Publications, foods that are high in saturated and trans fats, such as beef or steak, dairy, and fried foods, cause high levels of LDL cholesterol (the bad kind). Not only are these artery clogging foods detrimental to the heart, but they can also cause damage to the brain. Foods that are high in mono and polyunsaturated fats, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, and olive oil will increase levels of HDL cholesterol (the good kind) which will prevent blood vessels from getting clogged or damaged and reduce the risk of memory loss and stroke.
Here’s what we should eat:
Green leafy vegetables
Fish and Poultry
Ice cream (okay I made that up)
Here’s what we should avoid:
Butter and stick margarine
Pastries and sweets
Fried or fast food
6. Manage Chronic Conditions
Follow your doctor's treatment plan for medical conditions such as depression, anxiety, 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.
7. Mental Exercises
Engaging in activities such as a hobby that involves hand-eye coordination, memory exercises, and doing math in your head have been found to improve cognitive function and memory. Keeping your mind active with new challenges can keep your memory strong. Here’s a few ideas from https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/brain-exercises#bottom-line
Build your vocabulary
Learn a new skill
Teach a new skill to someone else
Listen to or play music
By incorporating one or more brain exercises into your daily life, you’ll challenge your mind, sharpen your cognitive skills, and possibly learn something new and enriching along the way.