People can become forgetful and have so-called “senior moments” at any age. You can’t find your car keys, or walk into a room and forget the reason that you came, or someone’s name slips your mind. It happens.
While we associate memory loss with aging, we shouldn’t. The Harvard Medical School says, “Aging alone is generally not a cause of cognitive decline. When significant memory loss occurs among older people, it is generally not due to aging but to organic disorders, brain injury, or neurological illness.”
The “brain continues to develop neurons and build new connections to strengthen memory as you age, a phenomenon called neuroplasticity,” says Brianne Bettcher, a neuropsychology fellow at the University of California, San Francisco, Memory and Aging Center. “So it’s never too late to improve your powers of recall.” Medical experts agree that people can improve their memory and mental acuity at any age. Here’s what they recommend.
- Keep learning. Harvard also tells us, “Experts think that advanced education may help keep memory strong by getting a person into the habit of being mentally active. Challenging your brain with mental exercise is believed to activate processes that help maintain individual brain cells and stimulate communication among them.” While many of us have jobs that keep us mentally focused and active, retired people or people without stimulating jobs can volunteer, explore a hobby, or otherwise learn new skills.
- Stay happy. OK, easier said than done. One way to stay happier is through regular social activity. The Mayo Clinic says, “Social interaction helps ward off depression and stress, both of which can contribute to memory loss. Look for opportunities to get together with loved ones, friends, and others — especially if you live alone. When you’re invited to share a meal or attend an event, go!”
- Sleep more. Several studies show memory improves with sleep and degrades without it. “In a study published in the journal Sleep Medicine, researchers asked subjects to perform some memory tasks and then either take a nap or stay awake. The people who napped remembered more of the tasks they had performed than did those who stayed up. Rule of thumb: Get seven to nine hours of sleep total each day.”
- Eat right. Yes, many of the same things that are good for your overall health are also also good for your memory. Mercola.com recommends, “9 Brain Boosting Foods,” and they aren’t all what you would expect. Red meat makes the list! Dr. Mercola also says, “The foods you eat – and don’t eat – play a crucial role in your memory. Fresh vegetables are essential, as are healthy fats and avoiding sugar and grain carbohydrates.”
- Stay fit. You know what always comes after advice to eat right…exercise. Learning new skills keeps your brain active, you need to exercise the rest of your body as well. HelpGuide.org says that aerobic exercise increases oxygen to your brain and reduces the risk for disorders that lead to memory loss, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Physical exercise also stimulates helpful brain chemicals and reduces stress and its impact on brain function. Exercise plays an important role in neuroplasticity by boosting growth factors and stimulating new neuronal connections.
- Stop multitasking. Switching focus between screens causes you to store less information in your memory, releases hormones that impair your thought process, and may even lower your IQ, a study shows. With all the screens and messages in our lives, we switch focus more than ever.
While mild forgetfulness can be a normal part of life and is not necessarily a product of aging, more persistent memory loss, or forgetfulness that grows worse over time, can be a sign of a more serious condition.