Mental Workout: 7 Tips to Keep your Mind Healthy and Strong as you Age
As we age, it is not uncommon to notice that our memory function may seem to decrease. Memory lapses, like the inability to recall a name or missing a doctor’s appointment, can occur at any age. However, elderly people tend to become more upset by them due to fear that they are a sign of a mental condition like dementia or loss of intellectual function.
There is a fundamental difference between fleeting memory and significant memory loss. The latter is not a normal part of aging and is often due to extenuating circumstances such as brain injury or Alzheimer’s disease. However, fleeting memory loss is a normal transformation in our brains as we age. These changes can be frustrating as certain cognitive processes such as learning new things, or overcoming distractions, may become more difficult.
There are various strategies that can be applied to keep our minds strong and ward off these new complications. Harvard Medical School recently published some of these tips.
- Continue learning.
Just like any other part of your body, your brain requires exercise to stay strong. Pursuing a hobby, or learning a new skill, can function as a way to keep our minds mentally active. Activities such as reading books, playing chess, writing short stories, completing puzzles or performing anything that involves a skill can help keep your mind sharp. Continuing to learn and process new information is critical since building and preserving brain connections is a lifelong commitment.
- Use all of your senses.
Our senses play a major role in learning and retaining information. Studies have shown that memories paired with the use of multiple senses such as feel and smell often bring about a greater sense of recall. Challenge all of your senses when you tackle a new experience. Try to use your sense of taste and smell to dictate the ingredients in a new restaurant dish you are trying, or pay attention to the feel and smell of the materials at a local sculpting or ceramics class.
- Believe in yourself.
Negativity brought forth by misconceptions [link to previous misconceptions blog] associated with an aging brain can actually further complicate memory problems. Studies have shown that those who remain positive as they age tend to have stronger memory preservation. Those with fleeting memory who believe they cannot control their situation are less likely to put forth the effort required to maintain or improve memory function. Believing you can increase your cognitive functions will ultimately allow you to proceed with the proper steps necessary to keep your mind sharp.
- Use your brain wisely.
As we grow older, it is important to make best use out of the memory storage that we possess. Take advantage of products such as calendars, planners, shopping lists and address books to organize all of your static information instead of constantly trying to remember key dates and items. Designate a place in your home where you will place common items such as your purse, wallet or keys. Minimize distractions by removing clutter in your home and office. Clearing your mind of this routine information will leave ample space to retain new information.
- Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
If you seek to remember something you’ve just heard or read, repeat it. Don’t just say it in your head, instead say it out loud and put it in writing. If you feel that you’d didn’t comprehend information at first, don’t hesitate to ask for it to be repeated. When learning a new name, be sure to use it when addressing the person. If you place your belongings in a different location than you normally do, make a conscious effort to repeat the new location out loud. Repetition is a critical component in reinforcing a memory.
- Give it time.
While repetition is important, using it continuously in a short period of time as if cramming for an exam is not an effective method. It is important to re-visit the new information over incremental periods of time. Start by refreshing your memory once an hour, then every few hours, then every day and soon these new processes will become engrained in your long-term memory. Spacing out periods of study has been shown to improve recall not only among healthy people, but also those with physically-based cognitive impairments.
- Make a mnemonic
Mnemonic devices are an easy, fun and creative way to remember listed items. From common math functions such as Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally – PEMDAS (The order of operations; Parenthesis, Exponents, Multiply, Divide, Add, Subtract) to first-aid advice for injuries – RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation), this strategy can make memorization easy.
It is important to understand that memory loss is common as we age. While you cannot prevent the occasional misplaced set of keys or forgotten phone number, you can take a proactive approach to keep your mind strong and healthy as you age.