Our memories play an immense role in who we are. They remind us of our values, who we are connected to, the experiences we have had and how they affected us, what we have learned and our skills, and who we want to be. As humans, these memories are crucial to our makeup. So, it should come as no surprise that memory loss, whether age-related or in the form of dementia, can signify a loss of self.
Short-term memory loss can also take a toll on our ability to live a normal life; from losing the keys to the car or failing to take medication, to forgetting the name of an acquaintance you bumped into at the grocery store. What once came second-nature can require an excess of mental energy.
If you or a loved one are suffering from memory loss, know that you aren’t alone. Approximately 40% of adults aged 65 or older have age-associated memory impairment, and about 10% have mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which is more than the typical cognitive decline related to aging. While moderate recall deficiencies are to be expected and are a normal sign of growing old, there are several memory loss prevention steps seniors can take to boost their brain health and slow the effects of dementia.
6 Memory Loss Prevention Tips To Keep A Healthy Brain
1. Stay Physically Active
Increasing the blood and oxygen flow to your brain may help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. Exercise does not have to be high impact to be effective. Seniors should consider a brisk walk around the block, gardening, dancing, taking a swim, or other low to moderate impact activities that will not only keep them busy but breathe life into their day-to-day activities, while improving their mood. A better mood, believe it or not, helps memory.
Aerobic exercises will get your heart pumping while giving a boost to your hippocampus, which is the part of the brain associated with verbal memory and learning. The direct effects of exercise have proven to reduce inflammation and insulin resistance and stimulate chemicals that affect the health and abundance of brain cells.
2. Practice Meditation & Mindfulness
Meditation can positively impact your health in a variety of ways. Not only is it relaxing, but it has been found to reduce pain and stress, lower blood pressure, and improve memory. Meditating helps protect the mind from distractions, allowing those in practice to focus on their inner faculty.
A significant part of mental strength training is an effort to reach high levels of concentration and focus. Staying in the moment teaches us to recall important details and actively store them in our memories with assigned significance. When your mind drifts, focus on your breathing and reset your attention. Receptive attentiveness to your surroundings, or mindfulness, has shown to improve both attention and working memory.
3. Take Care of Your Health
Your physical health is just as important as your mental health. Several medical conditions can indirectly disrupt your memory and increase your risk of developing Alzheimer’s, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and depression. In fact, 80% of people with Alzheimer’s also have cardiovascular disease. It’s essential that you address your health issues by consulting with your doctor for recommended treatments.
Taking care of your health also includes your sleeping habits! Sleep is a substantial factor in storing your memories, so if you are sleep deprived, your mind could be negatively impacted. As we have been advised all our lives, eight hours of sleep per night is ideal.
4. Maintain A Balanced Diet
Heart-healthy eating may help protect the brain, reducing the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s. The Alzheimer’s Association recommends limiting sugar and saturated fats and consuming plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Beneficial diets include the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, which emphasizes produce and low-fat dairy, and the Mediterranean diet, which encourages healthy fats, fish, and a minimal amount of red meat.
Alcohol intake should also be taken into consideration. Alcohol impairs judgment, leads to confusion and can cause memory loss in anyone of any age. Now imagine how it may affect a senior that is already concerned with their ability to recall some of the simplest things!
5. Engage in Mentally Stimulating Activities
Get those creative juices flowing by learning something new! Building brain power by acquiring new talents is an effective way to stay sharp, aware, and mentally disciplined. It’s also an amazing way to keep seniors feeling motivated, busy, and positive. Consider taking a class to learn something new: language, art, instruments… there are so many options. It is just a matter of what you are interested in learning.
You may even consider continuing education to keep your retention abilities strong and reignite the old habit of continuous mental activity. Was there a class you always wish you took? Or a degree you swore you’d achieve at some point in life? Better late than never! Our brains love to be challenged and exercised, which assists in the maintenance and internal communication of brain cells.
You can also train your brain with entertaining activities that will keep your wheels turning. Mentally stimulating activities such as crossword puzzles, cards, and other brain games may help delay memory loss by promoting critical thinking. Making lists, storing them in your pocket, and then practicing recall is another way to “test” yourself in ways that you may have ceased since retiring from your professional career.
6. Get Social
Engaging in social activities such as book club and volunteer work can stimulate the brain while allowing for social exposure. Your connections play a huge role in your cognitive health. In retirement, our lifestyle changes in such a way that we may not be exposed to our peers as much as we used to be. When that change happens, we’re forced to adapt to a new environment and way of living, which can be a shock to the system.
Social engagement helps alleviate stress, anxiety, and depression, which, as we have learned, can negatively impact the brain and lead to loss of memory if they go unaddressed.
It is important to note that increased mental activity is not a cure, but a speed bump. For some, memory loss is inevitable regardless of the exercises and stimulants employed. However, changing your lifestyle in the early stages of potentially long-term memory loss can help prevent a steeper decline.
If you or a loved one has concerns about your brain health, it’s essential that you understand what would be constituted as age-related changes, and what may be caused by dementia. Always consult a doctor to be tested and discuss treatment options.