When looking at aging gracefully, memory loss is another brain function to consider. As we age, we’ve all had those moments when we forget what we wanted to say, can’t think of the right word, forget an appointment, can’t remember where we put something, suddenly realize we don’t know what the conversation around us is about and other such memory losses. With all the attention given these days to dementia and Alzhemeir’s should these memory lapses cause us concern? Are there ways we can improve memory? We used to be told that doing brain puzzles was a way to help with aging gracefully in keeping mentally sharp, but today doctors are saying that doesn’t help as much as they once thought.
Some of these memory lapses are normal. When the brain is not being required to concentrate, the parts of the brain that control mind wandering or daydreaming are active. Improving concentration can go a long way in preventing the brain from taking these wanderings. There are many conditions that can cause these episodes of wandering and distract concentration including worry, boredom, stress, being over tired and anxiety. Some of this is the brain’s normal way of taking a break. It becomes a problem when it happens too much and interferes with life situations. Studies on memory lapses show that changes in the frontal lobes of the brain can make paying attention more difficult when distractions occur. As we get older these changes make it harder to focus on tasks and be distracted easier or engage in mind wandering. Once distracted, the working memory becomes overwhelmed and stops taking in new information. Ever have someone swear they told you about something that you have no recollection of? Now you know how both of you could be right.
A history of head injuries, sometimes unidentified, can also be the cause of memory failures. These injuries can cause loss of brain tissue which can lead to cognitive and behavioral problems. A past, perhaps forgotten head injury, that caused disorientation can sometimes be the cause of dementia-like symptoms. Your health care provider or a neuro specialist may be able to help you determine if this is a cause of memory problems for you.
There are things you can do to help with memory loss and aging gracefully. Here are some tips with things you can do to increase concentration and awareness and cope with the memory lapses that become more prevalent as we get older.
Keep Your Brain Engaged
The brain is a muscle and like other muscles, it needs exercise. Learning new things is a way to form new neural connections by engaging different parts of the brain. Read books you haven’t read before, take a class to learn something new, or find a new hobby to learn about. These type of activities do more for keeping your mind sharp than just doing crossword and brain type puzzles.
Physical exercise and keeping an active lifestyle has been shown in studies to prevent brain shrinkage and improve cognitive functioning. Cardio exercises help support the health of blood vessels that supply the heart and brain, but resistance training also has been shown to help with mental functioning. Keeping blood pressure levels balanced has also been shown to improve mental ability. Yoga and meditation both can help in this respect. Mindfulness meditation is another way to work on attention and concentration as well as relieving stress. Practicing this type of meditating has been known to help people in bringing their minds back from wandering and control their attention.
You can plan ahead of time if you know you are going to be in a situation that will require a lot of concentration, attention or memory. For example, if attending a party, review names and faces of people you believe you will encounter there. If going to your high school reunion, look over your high school yearbook to refresh your memory on names. Make yourself cheat sheets to take with you if you need to in situations where you will have to remember a lot of information. Keep notepads near places like by the phone, at your desk, in your car; anywhere that you might encounter someone setting an appointment or that you might think of something important you need to remember later. Then be sure to not just walk off and leave your notes to yourself. Pick them up and carry them with you until you can write them on your primary calendar or until you get to your computer to fill in the information you need to complete an assignment.
Memory can also be exercised. Practice at bedtime recalling as many of the day’s events as you can. Spending some time evaluating how your memory works and understanding the types of memory clues that you find helpful can be time well spent. Some people are visual while others are more auditory or tactile. This information can be helpful when you have a something you know you need to remember. For example, if you are visual, translate the information into a picture in your mind. That will make it easier to retrieve the information later.
Take the time to learn your own individual memory strengths and weaknesses. If you know you tend to drift away during certain situations, prepare a list of questions or comments beforehand to refer to that will keep you engaged. If you know there is a certain time of day or a certain task that you have trouble staying focused on, plan to take a walk or do something physical just before that time or before that task. If you work at a desk and start to notice you are losing attention, get up and walk around. This will help you start training your brain that when you are at the desk it is concentration time. Having a reminder note or some other physical reminder nearby that redirects your attention can also work. Driving is another situation that it is important to have a visual reminder to refocus attention as many of us tend to drive on autopilot and drift off thinking about other things.
Keep a central calendar. Make it one that you can access from anywhere such as an online calendar that you can access from home and office computers and from your mobile phone. Or a paper calendar that is easy enough to carry with you where ever you go. Do not agree to any type of appointment without having the calendar to write it in immediately. An exception to this that I have used well is when someone asks me to do something, I put the responsibility back on them and ask them to email me the request. That way I can leave the email in my inbox until I am at my desk and able to write it in my calendar. Be sure you include enough details to know the time, place, person meeting, etc… After all if you are having memory problems you don’t need to have to stop and figure out where and when and who. I also find it helpful to keep one primary calendar instead of separate work/home/community organization ones. Having everything in one place prevents over scheduling, scheduling more than one thing at the same time and means you only have to go to one place to check your schedule.
For things that need to be done within a short time period, I still find sticky notes helpful. For example, if I call a repair service and they are out to lunch, I can make a sticky note reminding myself to call in 20 minutes and stick it in a prominent place so I don’t forget it. I also sometimes will set an alarm and/or email myself a reminder with the subject line ALARM. That way I know what I was supposed to remember when the alarm goes off. Whatever system you devise to organize things whether it’s appointments or physical objects all having their own place, just be sure to get in the habit of never straying from the system. If you keep your keys on a hook in the kitchen then when you get home, do not put the keys down until you put them there. If you get distracted by something, just hang onto the keys until you can put them in their place. Practicing this will help increase awareness and prevent you from going on autopilot which is the state in which most things are misplaced.
Nutritional supplements can help you get the nutrition your brain needs for optimal health. The brain needs a diet that includes high quality fats and proteins to function properly. Vitamin B1 and B12 are especially important to prevent memory loss. Acidophilus and bifidus, two of the probiotics or friendly bacteria that live in our gut, help in the production of B-vitamins. Stress, drinking chlorinated water, and taking antibiotics can all kill the probiotics naturally found in the gut. Taking acidophilus and bifidus supplements can help restore the populations of these beneficial bacteria, allowing our bodies to produce B-vitamins.
A form of blue-green algae that is a special stripped-down version of the algae cell which allows it to pass through the blood brain barrier can help with mental clarity, memory retention, and mental energy. This form of blue-green algae known as Aphanizomenon flos-aquae is acknowledged as the oldest complete food on the planet and provides just about every nutrient your body needs, in the form of a living, single-cell, raw food that is highly assimilable. The amino acids found in this blue green algae are the building blocks of the healthy nerve cells and neurotransmitters vital for proper brain function. It also provides essential omega-3 fatty acids that help maintain normal, healthy blood chemistry which means it feeds the blood that feeds the brain.
Another blue green algae supplement that is supportive of brain health has the added ingredients of bee pollen, vitamin A, enzymes, antioxidants, gluten-free wheatgrass juice, Hawaiin noni, eleuthero, ginkgo, and turmeric. Bee pollen is reported to have a high amino acid content useful for stimulating memory and concentration. Wheatgrass juice has been found to provide nutrients that support brain health and clearer thinking. Many people have used gingko for a long time to promote increased memory and mental concentration by increasing circulation and providing increased oxygenation of brain cells. Curcumin, found in turmeric, has been the basis of much research and found to have benefit for enhancing memory, as an anti-inflammatory, for enhancing nerve growth in areas of the brain and as an antidepressant. It is also being studied and used in relation to treating Alzheimer’s. This supplement gives you a combination of all these brain boosting ingredients in a single capsule as an alternative for natural brain health support.
There are ways to deal with memory loss and lapses in your goal of aging gracefully. I hope within the 5 memory boosting tips given here you find something that works for you. Just giving a little thought to how your mind works and ways to help you cope with a lagging memory can make life so much easier.