10 Tips to Keep Your Memory Sharp

Adapted from Mayo Clinic Resources

Exercise Your Mind: Just as physical activity keeps your body strong, mental activity keeps your mind sharp and agile. Challenging your mind will keep it at its sharpest. Some ways to keep your mind challenged include learning to play a musical instrument, reading, interacting with people, doing crossword puzzles, playing Scrabble, starting a new hobby, learning a language, volunteering, and writing letters.

Stay Active: Exercising just 30 minutes a day will improve blood flow to the brain. Some people find it easiest to get motivated when they exercise with a friend or a favorite pet. To get maximum benefit, your exercise routing should include a) aerobic activity five times a week (brisk walk, bicycling, or swimming), b) strength training two to three times a week (weightlifting, elastic resistance bands), and c) daily stretching to increase your range of motion and decrease stiffness. Also, did you know that if you are sleeping poorly or your mood is down or irritable you will likely notice increased memory difficulties? The good news is that exercise has also been shown to improve sleep and mood.

Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy: Eat a diet rich in fruit and vegetables. These contain antioxidants – substances that protect and nourish your brain. As an added bonus, these foods may reduce your risk of cancer, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis. Also, drink at least eight glasses of water a day. Lack of water leads to dehydration, which can leave you feeling tired and make it hard to concentrate. Some ways to include more water into your routine include a) keep a water bottle close at had, b) schedule your water – have a glass of water upon waking, and every two hours for the rest of the day, and c) have a glass of water with meals.

Develop a System of Reminders and Cues: In today’s world, information comes at you from all directions all the time. Sometimes it is necessary to take extra steps to remind yourself what is important. Work through the information overload with these memory triggers: a) write it down- keep a diary, use calendars, and make lists, b) establish a routine – store easy to lose items in the same place and complete tasks in the same order. Change is difficult and takes extra effort, c) set up cues – for instance put a note on your bathroom mirror reminding you to take your medicine or set your keys near the coffer pot so you remember to turn it off before leaving, and d) use repetition to remember important facts – for instance, to help remember a person’s name integrate it into the conversation several times after being introduced.

Take time to Remember Things: Forgetfulness may indicate nothing more than having to much on your mind. Normal aging changes the brain, which makes it slightly less efficient in processing new information. However, experience and wisdom can make up for this loss in speed. Give yourself time – slow down and pay full attention to the task at hand.
Learn Relaxation techniques: Do you sit at the table with your shoulders hunched? Do you catch yourself clenching your teeth? Do you tap your foot or fingers while you are sitting idle? If you find yourself fidgeting or feeling tight even when you are sitting still, chances are you are not relaxed. Stress, tension, and anxiety can interfere with concentration so its important to relax – really relax. One technique involves taking a mental break from the world. Lie down or sit in a comfortable position with your eyes closed. Check in with your body mentally. Is it tense or sore? If so, imagine the discomfort melting away. Next, take a relaxation tour of your body. Start with your toes and work your way up. Gently tighten every muscle group you come across for 5 seconds before relaxing and moving on to the next section: toes, feet, ankles to knees, thighs to buttocks, back to shoulders, arms to fingertips, neck to head, and finally all the muscles in your face. Breathe slowly, regularly and deeply during the whole relaxation procedure. Once relaxed, imaging you are in a favorite place or spot of beauty and stillness. After 5-10 minutes, rouse yourself from relaxation gradually. Often, once you have relaxed, you will be able to focus and remember much better.

Keep a Positive Attitude: A positive outlook on life plays an enormous role in our ability to be happy. Too much focus on the negative usually doesn’t change the situation and leaves you feeling frustrated, sad, tired, or hopeless. Optimists tend to be happier and healthier. When you are happier and more optimistic you will feel more alert and able to process information.

Talk with Your Doctor: Many factors unrelated to aging can contributed to memory problems. These include the use of certain medications, poor vision and hearing, vitamin deficiencies, fatigue, depression, stress, and illness unrelated to Alzheimer’s disease. Depression, in particular, can cause problems with memory and concentration and is often mistaken for Alzheimer’s disease in the elderly.

Check Your Levels: Know your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar. Also, make sure you thyroid gland is functioning normally. A problem in any of these may contribute to memory difficulties.

Keep Your Perspective: Sometimes increased attention to memory problems makes them seem worse than they really are. You are not the only one who has placed a coffee cup on the roof of your car or put the milk away in the cupboard. You are not the first person to dial a number only to forget whom you are calling. It happens. Take note of it, but unless you feel it’s unusually frequent, don’t be concerned. Don’t lose sight of how much you do remember!