“What was it I was looking for in the frigde?” “What was it I was supposed to get at the store?” “What’s your name again?” Most of us have had to ask questions like this, and it seems to happen more often as we get older. We can’t turn back our biological clock, but there are things Seniors can do to reduce their amount of forgetting.
I have been studying memory research literature for quite a few years now, and I know some of this research is relevant to everyday memory problems. I have summarized these findings in my book, Thank You Brain for All You Remember, and keep readers up to date with my blog (see thankyoubrain.com).
Here are some things I’ve found to be helpful for Seniors.
1. Get better organized. Many things we try to remember do not have to be remembered if we always get better organized. Car keys, for example, should ONLY be in the car, your pocket/purse, or the same place in your house. Ditto for many other objects, such as purse, hat, glasses, etc. Life is a lot simpler when you have a place for everything, with everything in its place.
2. Make a special effort to pay attention, concentrate. Research shows that aging reduces a person’s ability to focus and pay attention. This also means we have to work harder at filtering distractions, such as when we open the refrigerator door and forget what we are looking for because we thought of something else before we opened the door. New learning has to be consolidated to form lasting memory, and this takes a little uninterrupted time and conscious rehearsal right after you learn it. Seniors are especially susceptible to having temporary memories wiped out by distractions.
3. Eat well. Make certain you have a balanced diet. Supplements usually won’t help memory unless you have a nutritional deficiency. Vitamin deficiencies that would be most affected by taking supplements are B vitamins, C, and D3. Several research studies indicate eating blueberries is helpful (especially on an empty stomach). Perhaps an ingredient in red wine, resveratrol, can help, but there is no way you could drink enough wine; however, resveratrol supplements are now coming on the market, but there are no formal studies I know of that test whether they improve memory. There is also suggestive evidence for memory improvement from omega-3 fatty acids and folic acid. Pharmaceuticals to improve memory are in the works, but you may have to wait quite a while before research shows which ones really work.
4. Exercise the body. Vigorous aerobic exercise, if you doctor will allow it, can improve your circulation and perhaps blood flow in the brain. But there also seem to be memory benefits from exercise independent of blood circulation. We don’t know why. Maybe relief of stress and improved mood are factors. We know positive emotions do help memory, but again for unknown reasons.
5. Exercise the memory. The more you make an effort to memorize, the easier it seems to get. Learn a new language, work cross-word puzzles or Sudoko, play chess, take music lessons. If none of this appeals, just rely more than usual on memory. For example, memorize grocery or “to do” lists. Practice using visual-image associations. There are specific image-based systems (“peg systems”) I describe in my book for performing astonishing memory feats, such as card counting, remembering long strings of numbers, and remembering the gist of what is on every page of a magazine or book.
6. Get plenty of sleep. Many studies show the brain is processing the day’s events while you sleep and consolidating them in memory. This kind of “off-line” rehearsal occurs just for the learning experiences on the day of sleep. Naps help too! How’s that for good news?
The bottom line is that, unless you have Alzheimer’s disease, you can improve your memory. Getting older has enough frustrations. Don’t compound them by tolerating an inefficient memory. Enjoy your improved brain.