Five Memory Tips for Combating those Senior Moments
It’s not your imagination – “senior moments” or “brain burps” occur more often once you hit the age of 50. A new study from Belgium found that as we age, we are slower to remember things like people’s names or the names of common everyday objects. But there are steps you can take to improve your memory and mental performance.
Clemence Verhaegen and Martine Poncelet of the Department of Psychology at the University of Liege found that participants above the age of 50 took about a half a second longer to respond when asked to name an object presented in a picture. For those between the age of 50 and 60, most did eventually identify the object correctly. However, for those in their 60’s and 70’s, there were not only delays in naming the object in the picture (called latency), but also less accuracy.
The authors aren’t yet sure why this happens but have two theories. The elderly often experience a general slowing of all cognitive processes, including language abilities. Another hypothesis is called the “Transmission Deficit Hypothesis” which is more language-specific and states that aging weakens the strength of certain connections within the brain that leads to difficulties in word activation.
This particular study did not go on to study the brain health of the participants to determine if memory can be preserved with simple lifestyle changes. However, several experts do note that physical health is significantly associated with cognitive health, and good habits such as diet, exercise, stress reduction and sleep go a long way to keeping the brain active and healthy into the senior years.
Memory Tip One: Do Not Skimp on Exercise or Sleep
Physical exercise increases oxygen to the brain and reduces the risk for disorders that lead to memory loss, such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease. Exercise may also enhance the effects of helpful brain chemicals and protect brains cells.
Sleep deprivation often leads to compromised brain function. Creativity, problem-solving abilities, and critical thinking skills are compromised when a person does not get adequate sleep.
Memory Tip Two: Stay Social
We humans are highly social animals. Relationships are not only vital to emotional health, but also brain health. Having a network of friends and family around us stimulates our brains. In a Harvard School of Public Health study those with the most active social lives had the slowest rate of memory decline.
Laughter and fun are essential to brain health as well. Unlike other emotions that are limited to specific areas of the brain, laughter engages multiple regions across the entire brain. Take a tip from children and look for ways to bring more laughter and fun into your life daily.
Memory Tip Three: Keep Stress in Check
Left unchecked, chronic stress can destroy brain cells and damage the hippocampus, the region of the brain involved in the formation of new memories and the retrieval of old ones. Certain stress relieving techniques, such as meditation, can actually help build the brain, increasing the thickness of the cerebral cortex and encouraging more connections between brain cells – all of which increase mental sharpness and memory ability.
Memory Tip Four: Eat for Brain Health
Certain nutrients are very important to keeping the brain healthy throughout our lives. Omega-3 fatty acids, for example, may help lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Eating colorful fruits and vegetables with plenty of antioxidants is also important for brain protection from damaging outside influences.
Reduce calories, especially from saturated fat. Red meat, whole milk, butter, cheese and the like increase the risk of dementia and impair concentration and memory. Eating too many calories, resulting in excess weight, is also a risk factor for later cognitive impairment. The Mediterranean Diet has been associated with good brain health as well as improving weight status and decreasing chronic disease risk.
Memory Tip Five: Give Your Brain a Workout
Memory, like muscular strength, requires you to “use it or lose it.” The more you keep your brain active, the better you will be able to process and remember information. Keep the brain active by learning new activities (a new sport or a new language), listening to or playing music, doing crossword puzzles or Sudoku, or any activity that challenges you. TV watching is not that activity!
Additional Memory Tips for Enhancing Your Ability to Remember
- Use a mnemonic device - A clue that helps you to remember something by associating the word with something familiar. For example, use a visual image that is positive, colorful and three-dimensional. To remember the name “Rosa Parks,” visualize a woman sitting on a park bench surrounded by roses, waiting for a bus.
- Use an Acrostic – a sentence in which the first letter of each word represents what you want to remember. “Every Good Boy Does Fine” helps you remember the lines of the treble clef – notes E, G, B, D, and F.
- Use a Rhyme – Remember this from school? Thirty days hath September, April, June and November.
- Pay attention. You can’t remember something if you never learned it, and you can’t learn something—that is, encode it into your brain—if you don’t pay enough attention to it. It takes about eight seconds of intense focus to process a piece of information into your memory. If you’re easily distracted, pick a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted.
- Involve as many senses as possible. Try to relate information to colors, textures, smells, and tastes. The physical act of rewriting information can help imprint it onto your brain. Even if you’re a visual learner, read out loud what you want to remember. If you can recite it rhythmically, even better.
- Relate information to what you already know. Connect new data to information you already remember, whether it’s new material that builds on previous knowledge, or something as simple as an address of someone who lives on a street where you already know someone.
- For more complex material, focus on understanding basic ideas rather than memorizing isolated details. Practice explaining the ideas to someone else in your own words.
- Rehearse information you’ve already learned. Review what you’ve learned the same day you learn it, and at intervals thereafter. This “spaced rehearsal” is more effective than cramming, especially for retaining what you’ve learned.
Verhaegen, C. and Poncelet M. Changes in Naming and Semantic Abilities with Aging from 50 to 90 Years. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society (2013), 19, 1–8. Published by Cambridge University Press, 2012.
HelpGuide.org: “How to Improve Your Memory” Authors: Melinda Smith, MA, and Lawrence Robinson