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Have you ever walked into a room, stopped, and wondered what in the heck you were looking for in the first place? We’ve all been there. As we get older, we can become more forgetful. But it doesn’t have to be that way; the memory improvement tips we discuss here can help.
While brain games are popular and important, there’s more to memory improvement than just crossword puzzles. Thank goodness, right?
In fact, recent research conducted at the University of Kansas Medical Center indicates that older adults can improve brain function by raising their fitness level. Jeffrey Burns, M.D., professor of neurology and co-director of the Kansas University Alzheimer’s Disease Center, led a six-month trial conducted with healthy adults ages 65 and older who showed no signs of cognitive decline. The results of the study were published on July 9, 2015 in the journal PLOS ONE.
These five memory improvement tips will you keep your brain happy and engaged. Variety is not only the spice of life but also vital to brain health.
1. Play some brain games
So-called brain games—like sudoku and chess—and even video games can be of great benefit to your cognitive health. Crossword puzzles in newspapers are an especially good choice because they tend to be easy in the beginning of the week and more difficult as the week progresses. This allows you to find which days challenge your current skillset and then move on to more difficult puzzles when you feel ready. Phone apps and computer games can also improve cognitive performance, multitasking ability, and short-term working memory.
Beware, however, of overusing technology because if you continually use it to distract yourself, mental performance can worsen. Does anyone really have to text while driving?
2. Be social
Studies show that staying connected to others can be good for brain health. Spending time with family, friends, and those with whom you share favorite activities helps build those important social bonds. While it is not yet definitive as to why being social is helpful to brain health, researchers at the University of Chicago have shown that loneliness undermines health and can be as detrimental as smoking. Also, the company you keep can make a positive difference.
People who socialize with others who have healthy habits are more likely to have and maintain better healthy habits themselves. The reverse, however, is also true. The National Institutes of Health offers up more reasons on why and how to be social.
3. Move your body
The brain is a highly vascular organ meaning that good blood circulation is needed to maintain a healthy brain. A brisk walk, dancing, swimming—it doesn’t matter so much what you do. What matters is that you move vigorously, preferably on a daily basis. If you’ve been sedentary for a long time, start by getting out to walk every day; our post “The Benefits of Walking” may help you take that first step.
The aforementioned research from the University of Kansas indicated that any exercise helped improve brain function but the intensity of the exercise appeared to matter more than the duration. In other words, to positively affect the brain, you need to exercise a bit out of your comfort zone.
4. Reduce stress
Purposeful relaxation techniques such as meditation, focused breathing, and prayer can help lower stress levels. Chronic stress shrinks the brain’s hippocampal memory centers, and stress hormones like cortisol temporarily impair learning and recall.
It’s not possible to get rid of all the stressors in life but we can learn to manage our stress better. Try some quick and easy techniques from Mayo Clinic doctor Amit Sood at stressfree.org.
5. Mind your meds
It’s not unusual for some seniors to be taking multiple medications. Some medications shouldn’t be combined with certain foods, supplements, vitamins or other over-the-counter medications. The combinations can cause medications to become inactive, too quickly absorbed or make you overly drowsy. Read label instructions and carefully and follow instructions from your doctor. If you’re unsure, or are experiencing side effects, talk with your doctor or pharmacist.
Learning about your brain can be a fascinating and rewarding journey into the inner workings of the human mind and a great way to improve your memory. The brain is quite the processing center. Regulating temperature, controlling balance, and keeping your heart beating and lungs breathing all while you’re reading this page. Why not take a deeper dive into your mind? Learn more about the brain on this PBS series, The Brain with David Eagleman, and take a quiz—you’ll find a number of them by clicking here—to check what you learned.
For related reading, see these University Health News posts:
- “Short-Term Memory Loss: Is It a Normal Part of Aging?“
- “Worried by Dementia Symptoms? Train Your Brain via Memory Improvement Games“
- “A Memory Loss Test: Looking for Signs of Cognitive Impairment“
- “Is Dementia Hereditary?”
Originally published in 2016, this post is regularly updated.