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Although research has yet to uncover a means of preventing Alzheimer’s disease, there is evidence that actively engaging your mind to “cement memories” can help preserve them as you age. And the earlier you start working on your memory, the better. Here are some memory exercises that may help you organize information, imprint it in your mind, and hopefully recall it more easily.
Train Your Brain With Memory Exercises
Regularly engaging in training exercises that help you practice specific cognitive abilities may help protect against memory loss better than memory strategies alone. Examples of memory exercises you might try:
- Strengthen your powers of attention by opening a newspaper or magazine to a random page and counting the number of words without touching the page. If you lose count, begin again until you finish the page. Strengthen your ability to concentrate by introducing distractions, such as turning on a TV or music.
- Boost information processing speed by looking out a window and trying to observe everything in your view for one minute. Jot down all of the details that you recall seeing on a piece of paper and then compare your notes to the view. As your processing speed improves, shorten the time you spend examining each new photo.
- Increase your short-term memory by listening to the headline stories in the opening of the news broadcast, then trying to remember them in order during the first commercial. Or if there is a story about a country you’re not familiar with, look up the countries it borders and try to recall those a few minutes later. As your short-term memory improves, try to remember additional details as well like the capitals of those countries.
- Exercise your capacity to recall information by reading a medium-length article on any subject while making an effort to remember as many details as you can. Put the article aside and write or recite as much as you can of its contents. Then check the original article to see how you did.
Use Mindfulness Meditation
Research suggests that the ability to pay attention declines with age. One excellent way to improve your ability to pay attention and remember is to practice mindfulness meditation, which involves focusing your awareness on sensory stimuli in the present moment, while ignoring intrusive thoughts and inner chatter.
Mindfulness meditation can slow a racing mind, help you pay attention to information you need to learn, and improve your ability to focus without becoming distracted and jumping from thought to thought. Research suggests it may even help reverse memory loss.
Massachusetts General Hospital neuroscientist Sara Lazar, PhD, has demonstrated that older individuals who meditate have better preserved cortical regions of the brain. These regions, which are responsible for attention, sensory processing, and integrating emotional and cognitive processes, normally thin with age. Yet the regions remain thick in people who practice mindfulness meditation, an indication that performance of cognitive tasks associated with those regions is preserved.
To enjoy the benefits of mindfulness meditation, you need to practice regularly. A daily 20-minute meditation should be sufficient.
Make a Weekly Plan
A weekly plan will help you stay on track without cluttering your mind with minutiae. Try to write your plan at the same time each week. Divide items into categories, such as “home,” “social activities,” “medical,” and “shopping.” Before you start, check the previous week’s schedule and carry over any tasks you have not completed. Include emails you need to answer, bills that need to be paid, telephone calls you have to make, and so on. Think of tasks you need to accomplish, and projects you want to concentrate on for the week. Include entries such as:
- Purchases you need to make
- Social events
- Special dates, such as birthdays or anniversaries
- Exercise activities
- Routine maintenance on your car or home
- Medical reminders
- Meetings and other work responsibilities.
At the beginning of each day, consult your weekly plan. As new tasks arise, get in the habit of recording them into your plan so that important information will be readily accessible. Cross off items you’ve accomplished. Carry the plan with you in your purse or car, so you’ll have it handy to refer to wherever you go. If you have a particularly busy day or week, set reminders on your smart phone or computer.
Make Information Stand Out
Some studies suggest that confusion about previously learned information, rather than the passage of time, weakens memory and interferes with its transfer to long-term storage. To increase your ability to retain a memory, endow it with unique elements or associations so that it stands apart from other information you may be exposed to at the same time. You can use a number of imaginative memory exercises:
- Take a snapshot: Create a mental “photograph.” Notice as many details as possible—such as that the woman you’ve just met wears her hair in a tight bun, or the car you’d like to buy has all-weather tires.
- Prepare a speech: Pretend you must describe or explain the information you want to remember to someone else. Rehearsing details—especially out loud—will help fix them in your mind.
- Sing it: Make up a song or jingle containing the information you’re trying to remember, such as a shopping list. The rhythm and tune of your jingle will help fix the information in your mind so you can recall it more easily later.
- Create a vivid mental image: For example, to help you remember to buy peanut butter, spaghetti, and olives at the supermarket, try picturing yourself with peanut butter smeared in your hair, a necklace of olives, and a hula skirt made of spaghetti strands. The vivid image should make your shopping list easier to recall.
For more memory exercises to boost your brain skills, purchase Combating Memory Loss at UniversityHealthNews.com.