As you age, you will likely experience the irritation of forgetting a name, losing your keys or wondering if you’ve left the water running.
Though such moments may cause you some mild embarrassment or brief inconvenience, they are perfectly normal and should not be mistaken for signs of early Alzheimer’s disease or other issues that result in memory loss. Conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease are marked by serious memory problems that affect a person’s ability to carry out everyday activities, such as showering, shopping or handling personal finances.
What is memory?
Memory is the ability to recall information or experiences and is generally categorized as short-term or long-term. With short-term memory, the brain stores information for just a few seconds or a few minutes. Short-term memory is intended only as temporary storage so the brain always has room for new information.
Long-term memory involves information that is retained over an extended period of time. If it can be recalled after a few minutes or a few decades, it is considered to be a long-term memory.
What are some signs of memory problems?
Signs of serious memory problems can include:
- Asking the same questions repeatedly
- Becoming confused about time, people and places
- Becoming lost in places you’re familiar with
- Having difficulty with following directions
- Ignoring hygiene, forgetting to eat or acting unsafely
Why does aging affect memory?
There are several reasons why aging brains experience changes in their ability to retain and retrieve memories:
- The hippocampus—a part of the brain that is crucial to memory formation and information retention—is especially vulnerable to age-related deterioration.
- There is a loss of neurons (cells that transmit nerve signals) as you age that can affect the activity of chemicals called neurotransmitters.
- Older patients frequently experience decreased blood flow to the brain and process brain-enhancing nutrients less efficiently than younger individuals.
How can memory be improved?
Memory is a lot like muscle strength: the more you exercise your brain, the more you’ll be able to do what you need to do (in this case, process and remember information). Here a few tips for giving your brain a healthy workout:
- Take a course in a subject you’re unfamiliar with, learn a new language or engage in games that require strategic thinking.
- Think about things from a different perspective, such as understanding the other side of a political argument.
- Try doing usual routines in unusual ways, such as brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand, to activate new neural connections.
In addition to exercising your brain, there are some basic things you can do to maintain or improve your ability to recall and retrieve memories:
- Make associations with something already familiar.
- Pay careful attention to information you want to hold on to.
- Understand your learning style; some people learn best by seeing, reading or touching, while others learn best through hearing.
- Write important information down in a calendar, an address book or a datebook to keep in a place you’ll remember.
What are some healthy habits that will improve memory?
- Get enough sleep for memory consolidation.
- Get regular exercise to increase oxygen to the brain and decrease the risk of developing conditions that can lead to memory loss.
- Limit heavy alcohol use to avoid permanent effects on the brain, including persistent memory problems, mental confusion and psychosis.
- Manage stress to control levels of cortisol, a hormone that can damage the brain if left unchecked.
- Quit smoking to reduce the risk of vascular conditions that can result in stroke and narrowed arteries.
By getting enough sleep, staying active and avoiding potentially harmful lifestyle choices, you can keep your brain sharp and memories intact for years to come.
For more information about maintaining your memory, contact Royal Care today.