Although most people accept that some memory loss occurs with aging, it is also possible to take proactive steps to protect memory. As a general rule, what is healthy for the body is also good for the brain - and for your memory.
See the next page to learn about five easy things you can do to boost your memory.
The brain is vulnerable to wear and tear over time. Eating foods rich in antioxidants, B vitamins or omega-3 fatty acids can help preserve brain health, memory and thinking into old age. Brain-friendly foods include berries, walnuts, fish, dark leafy greens, turmeric, spinach and orange juice.
Many brain experts use the phrase "what's good for the heart is good for the brain" as the watchword for good mental health. People who have heart disease struggle with memory and cognition. The longer someone has had heart disease, the worse their cognitive abilities. Taking care of the heart takes care of the brain. Focus on:
- Controlling high blood pressure
- Controlling cholesterol levels
- Controlling blood sugar
- Limiting alcohol consumption
- Not smoking
Stopping smoking improves the heart's health, which is related to the brain's health, but it also might have a direct impact on memory. Middle-age smokers have been shown to have worse memories than their nonsmoking peers, regardless of other lifestyle factors.
Controlling cardiovascular risk factors, or heart attack and stroke-related risk factors such as obesity, smoking, high cholesterol, lack of exercise, high blood pressure, diabetes, is also good for the brain.
Increasing the amount of light that people with dementia are exposed to each day improves their memory and cognitive abilities. This is especially true among those who tend to become depressed during the winter months, when there is less light. Seeking out light first thing in the morning helps set the body's circadian rhythms and, apparently, improves memory.
Studies show that night owls do worse on memory tests than early risers. However, getting quality sleep as you age might be more important than getting up early in the morning. Aim for six to eight hours of sleep a night, even if that means going to bed and getting up later than your early-bird peers. Try to keep the same sleep schedule on weekdays and weekends to improve the quality of your sleep.
If your memory is not as good as it used to be, practice some of the memory tricks that have been used by experts and politicians throughout the ages.
Visualization and association are both helpful when trying to remember names and details. For example, when meeting a new person, repeat their name several times and visualize an object or animal that will help you recall their name more easily.
When trying to remember important details, use a visualization technique that goes back to ancient Greece. Imagine your house and imagine walking through it. As you go room to room in your mind, connect each room or an item in each room with a fact or idea that you need to recall later. Practice your mental walk a few times and, when you try later, you should be able to recall the facts or ideas that you had linked to these rooms or items.
However, you can also go with tried-and-true tricks: placing a calendar in a prominent location, writing down everything in a notebook that contains all your to-do's and lists and finding easy-to-see places where you always leave important items such as glasses and keys.
For more information about memory and brain function, check out the links on the next page.
Researchers need human brains for study. HowStuffWorks answers some questions regarding brain donation.
- "Food for Thought," July 19-25, 2008, The Economist; "Coronary Disease Dulls Cognitive Skills," HealthDay News