There’s one thing that’s crucial to remember about memory loss: It doesn’t have to happen to you.
Experts agree that just because you hit a certain age—60, 65, even 85—doesn’t mean you are going to lose your ability to remember things, especially if you continue to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Our culture now has become so incredibly sensitized to the issue of memory loss, so as people get older, they think they’re cognitively doomed, which is not the case at all. While memory recall does peak in your 20s and the speed with which you can perform certain mental operations will gradually decline, many mental abilities like vocabulary and social judgment will stay the same or even improve with age.
Keeping it all together
There’s no magic formula for maintaining your memory in peak form. But eating a healthy diet, not smoking, keeping your brain active, socializing and exercising all work together to aid memory recall as you age.
There is increasing evidence that we can preserve memory longer by keeping the body healthy and the mind engaged and active. A recently published study from Finland compared two groups of people over 60. The group that became very regimented about diet—limiting sugar, salt and fat consumption and increasing intake of fruits, vegetables and fish—and participated in an exercise program and computer-based cognitive training programs performed better in overall brain function than the group that led a relatively healthy lifestyle but was not as regimented.
Exercise in particular can be an important component in retaining memory function. Some doctors tell patients to do 45 minutes of moderate exercise at least three times a week, and recommend they walk 30 to 35 minutes a day if they can.
To keep your mind engaged, try puzzles or card games or even online memory games like Luminosity. It’s also important to stay social, to get out with friends and family or to senior centers, and not to worry.
No stress is best
Being highly stressed taxes you physically and mentally. If you can reduce that stress, it will help with memory and overall physical well-being.
The importance of shut-eye
Sleep quality is also important. Sleep is necessary in consolidating memories, so interrupted sleep can be bad for the brain. Treating issues like obstructive sleep apnea, for example, can help improve memory.
Learning new tricks
Although learning new information may take longer as you age, “once something is learned, it is retained equally well in all age groups,”says Dr. Vaishali Saini, a neurologist affiliated with Parkview Medical Center, Pueblo, Colo.
In fact, the learning process itself can be valuable. “Longer formal education is linked with mental sharpness in the elderly population,” says Dr. Saini, “possibly because it helps create a habit of continued learning. Memory is like muscle strength in that if you keep exercising it, it gets stronger. If you don’t use it, you lose it.”
Boost your memory by:
- Eating a healthy diet
- Not smoking
- Keeping your brain active
- Socializing regularly
- Exercising moderately
- Getting a good night’s sleep
Try these no-stress tactics for giving your brain a helping hand:
- Hang a household calendar on your kitchen wall, mark down everyone’s schedules, and make it your first stop in the morning.
- Place a box or basket in a convenient place to hold the household objects that you tend to misplace most often—keys, cellphones, glasses.
- Take advantage of smartphone apps and set alarms to remind yourself when tasks need to be done.
- Use timed medication containers to organize your daily medications.
- Write a to-do list for the next day, each night, before you go to bed.