June 27, 2013

Don’t Forget: Tips for Helping Memory Loss

It’s a typical senior moment: You walk into another room of your home to retrieve something, but when you get there you forget why you came. So you have to go back to the original room and find the source of what you were looking for. Or, without thinking, you put down your car keys when you come home and later spend a half hour trying to find where you misplaced them.

Such lapses of memory are normal for most seniors and are caused by factors of aging: the deterioration of the hippocampus, a region of the brain involved in the formation and retrieval of memories; the decline of hormones and proteins that protect and repair brain cells and stimulate neural growth; decreased blood flow to the brain, which can impair memory and lead to changes in cognitive skills; and less absorption of brain-enhancing nutrients.

Fortunately, new research is showing that the brain is more adaptable than previously believed, and that, as we get older, we can learn more and different skills. You can take simple steps to keep your brain flexible and minimize memory loss.

Memory Techniques

There are many techniques for increasing your memory, as well as tricks to use when you can’t remember certain tasks.

  • Play games such as chess or Scrabble.

  • Work on puzzles, such as crossword or Sudoku.

  • Read newspapers, magazines and books that challenge you.

  • Learn new activities such as playing the harmonica, cooking a different meal or becoming skilled at yoga.

  • Go back to school and take courses in subjects that you’ve always been curious about.

  • To help remember important tasks for the day or what you need at the grocery store, make notes or checklists. (Just don’t forget where you put the lists.)

  • So you don’t forget appointments, put dates on calendars or in an electronic organizer.

  • If you have trouble remembering how to do certain repetitive tasks, such as how to add new contacts to your phone, write down the steps.

  • Put the items you use regularly (keys, glasses, watch) in the same spot when you’re not using them. That way, you’ll always know where they are.

  • Set an alarm clock or timer to remind you when to take pills, leave for an appointment or make a phone call.

  • If you’re having trouble remembering travel routes, get a GPS or a good map to help you find your way.

Adapted from helpguide
Exercise

Getting your body moving not only stretches your muscles, but also your brain. Oxygen and nutrients carried in the bloodstream feed the brain, so exercise keeps the blood moving.

Physical activity also reduces the risk for disorders that lead to memory loss, such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. When we don’t get regular exercise, plaque builds up in the arteries, and blood vessels lose the ability to pump blood effectively, which means our brains are not getting enough oxygen. In addition, exercise helps alleviate stress, which leads to a healthier brain (see below). At the same time, physical activity promotes sleep, which improves memory.

Any kind of exercise helps, but the more aerobic the better. In a study by the American Academy of Neurology, older adults who walked between 6 and 9 miles per week had more gray matter nine years after the start of the study than people who didn't walk as much. Researchers say that those who walked the most cut their risk of developing memory loss in half.

Eating

Not surprisingly, consuming a lot of fruits and vegetables helps your brain and thus your memory, as well as your heart. The reason is that the antioxidants hinder free-radical damage to cells. Experts recommend five to seven servings a day, everything from lettuce to blueberries. Also, foods rich in omega-3 fats (such as salmon, tuna, trout, walnuts and flaxseed) are particularly good for your brain and memory.

However, be careful to limit your food intake. A new study suggests that overeating may double a senior’s risk for mild cognitive impairment, including memory loss. Examining data on 1,233 dementia-free adults aged 70 to 89, researchers found that consuming between 2,100 and 6,000 calories per day doubled the risk for mental impairment (Medical News Today).

Stress

Stress appears to be a huge factor in memory loss. In the short run, the stress hormone cortisol causes momentary memory lapses and problems with concentrating, but in the long term damages the brain and can lead to more severe memory problems.

One of the most damaging stressors is major depression, which boosts cortisol levels. Brain scans illustrate how increased cortisol diminishes certain brain areas, chiefly the hippocampus, which processes short-term memory. One study showed that people who had been depressed, even if it was years ago, had suffered a 12 to 15 percent loss in the hippocampus.

Sleep

A good night’s sleep—at least seven hours of deep sleep—is important for consolidating memory. Sleep helps the brain grow new neurons in the hippocampus and lowers stress hormones, while lack of sleep can lead to depression. (See “Benefits of a Good Night’s Sleep,” March 2013 Senior Spirit.)

Alcohol

Several studies show that controlled alcohol consumption has positive effects on memory and dementia. A study of elderly Italians found that drinking alcohol in moderation may slow dementia’s progress. Meanwhile, French researchers studied people over the age of 65 who consumed up to two glasses of wine a day. Results showed that the wine-drinking subjects were 45 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than nondrinkers.

Scientists don’t know the precise reasons why red wine would help memory, but red wine does contain the antioxidant resveratrol. Of course, too much red wine could cause memory loss as well as confusion, and if you’re thinking about having a cigarette with your glass of wine, smoking heightens the risk of vascular disorders that can cause stroke and constricts arteries that deliver oxygen to the brain.

Socializing

Some scientists hypothesize that drinking red wine is beneficial because it is often done with others, and social activity can prevent depression and stress, and thus memory loss. Some research has shown that people who don’t have contact with family and friends are at higher risk for memory problems than people who have strong community ties.

Focus

Some scientists doubt that anyone can multi-task, but as you get older, there’s no doubt that when you try to do more than one activity at a time, you’re bound to run into trouble, like throwing away good silverware or putting a clean plate in the dirty dishwasher.

To avoid making mistakes, scientists recommend focusing on one action at a time and giving yourself enough time to let the information soak into your brain. Also, be aware of distracting external stimuli. For instance, don’t blare the TV while paying bills.

Mental Activity

One of the best ways to preserve your memory is to keep giving it new information that will keep it active. There are plenty of ways to do this—from crossword puzzles to learning a new language (see sidebar).

In addition, studies have shown that regular memory-training exercises, such as those available on the Internet, improved cognitive ability in older persons. In fact, some electronic games are designed specifically to strengthen your brain, such as video games like the Wii, handheld video-game platforms like the Nintendo DS and through subscription-based Web sites.

Because seniors didn’t grow up knowing how to use computers, such games can challenge parts of your brain you don’t usually use. In fact, one researcher found that action video games significantly improved older adults’ ability to stay focused.

One scientist recommends playing games that use as many senses as possible, and the website Everyday Health suggests several brain games: HAPPYneuron, which exercises all five cognitive areas of the brain; Brain Fitness Series CD-ROM, which lets you match your progress against other players and “coaches” you on your weaknesses; and Brain Age for handheld Nintendo DS systems, which trains users to solve simple math problems, recite piano songs and test memory skills, among other features. (Note: All these websites require subscriptions to play the games.)

The website Lumosity is connected to the Human Cognition Project, a network of scientists studying brain performance. Its brain-training games seem deceptively simple, asking you to recall the location of colored boxes in a matrix or a bird’s location on the screen plus a number. But the games have a serious purpose, which the website explains. “Lumosity targets core cognitive processes that underlie performance in many different areas. These processes include memory, attention and other abilities that are critical in the real world.” (Some initial training programs are free, but otherwise, a subscription is required.)

Sources

Helpguide, http://www.helpguide.org/life/prevent_memory_loss.htm
Mayo Clinic, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/memory-loss/HA00001/NSECTIONGROUP=2
Webmd, http://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/features/7-brain-boosters-to-prevent-memory-loss
Mindtools, http://www.mindtools.com/memory.html

Source: csa.us





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