By Julie Evey-Johnson, Ph.D.
Chair, Department of Psychology
University of Southern Indiana
We rarely reflect on how amazing memory is. We should reminisce and reflect on our lives and be grateful. Memory loss is one of the many things that most concerns us as we age. Some forgetting is normal; learn to accept that.
There are no magic formulas to improve memory – those only occur in fiction. But here are five things you can do now that will benefit your overall health as well as your memory:
- Eat right. We need less food as we get older. Our metabolism slows down naturally about 5 percent per decade by the time we are in our 40s. Thus, we need to eat less to maintain our current weight. Most of us eat out more than we should; portions are too large, sodium content too high, and quality of food too low.
- Get enough sleep. It is the first thing we look to give up when we have too much to do. Researchers suggest memories are consolidated during sleep.
- Be social. Talk to your family, neighbors, and friends. Pets are beneficial. If you are online, do not let that replace real relationships with humans.
- Be physically active. We should exercise every day. This can include strenuous exercise, but a daily walk is beneficial for our body and mind. What is most important is that you find types of exercise that you enjoy.
- Do some mental exercises. There are plenty of books and programs out there on this topic, but none of them have been studied scientifically to my satisfaction. Consider the holdings at your local library rather than purchasing these. The key is to challenge yourself. Do you want to learn to play a musical instrument or learn another language?
The brain changes as we age. It slowly (very slowly) shrinks, and we process information a little more slowly. But keeping our minds active will help. Are you forgetting to do things at a certain time? Often it is helpful to try to remember with an event rather than with the clock. For example, plan to take an evening pill when the news is on rather than at 9 p.m. Are you worried about forgetting to turn off the stove? Work on being mindful. Pay attention to what you are doing rather than allowing yourself to do routine tasks automatically.
Avoid stress, especially chronic stress. Stress that does not go away damages our ability to remember. So try to relax, eat right, get enough sleep, be social, and exercise (mentally and physically).
If you want to keep your mind sharp, you need to use it. When trying new activities to keep your mind active, approach difficulties as a challenge, not a burden. Find something that is not easy for you that you enjoy. This will challenge you to think, and you will benefit.
Julie Evey-Johnson is a member of the advisory council for the Center for Healthy Aging and Wellness, which helps plan the Mid-America Institute on Aging, co-sponsored by the University of Southern Indiana and SWIRCA & More. More information is at http://health.usi.edu/chaw/default.asp