Tips for Improving Your Memory
by Aly Walansky
We all have those moments when we can't find our car in a crowded parking lot or we frantically search for our keys as we rush out of the house. Memory problems plague everyone, but they are especially prevalent as we get older. Before you sign yourself up for Alzheimer's Care, though, check out these stellar memory-improvement tips. Finding your keys just got a little easier!
1. Embrace the Wii.
Interactive video games have become popular for family members of all ages, says Chris Roslan, a representative of Home Instead Senior Care, the largest provider of non-medical Home Care and companionship services for seniors, with more than 800 independently owned and operated franchises in the United States and 14 countries abroad. Some games, such as Nintendo's Brain Age, and the new Wii home video game system, may be particularly good for stimulating the mind.
2. Schedule a weekly game night.
Mind stimulation is great, but making it fun kicks it up a notch. Home Instead suggests beginning a habit of hosting game night at your home. Get a few friends together, and make your “mental work out” social. Board games such as Scrabble or chess involve a great deal of mind activity and are inexpensive and surprisingly effective tools.
3. Join a club.
To keep your mind active and improve your memory, the geriatric care professionals at My Health Care Manager, a health care advisor and support provider for older adults and their families, recommend taking part in a group activity like an investment club, card group, or political activism committee.
4. Learn a new language.
Staying mentally active can help reduce the effects of aging on memory, says Gretchen Hanson Gotthard, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania. Learning a new skill (e.g., a new language) or simply practicing an old skill in a new way (e.g., trying to eat, brush your teeth, or dial a telephone with your non-dominant hand) "wakes up" your brain and can lead to new connections being made in the brain. Your brain is "plastic" (i.e., it can change), and these changes can take place at all stages of life, Gotthard says.
5. Play a jaunty tune.
“Playing or singing music -- especially with others -- is a powerful way of helping all parts of the brain work together. It involves coordinating motor, auditory, emotional and visual brain systems along with verbal and nonverbal memory,” says Michael Jolkovski, Ph.D, a Virginia psychologist and psychoanalyst who specializes in musicians and music groups. Music is “not bad for overall quality of life, either,” Jolkovski says. “It's a darn sight more fun than doing puzzles!”
6. Take your vitamins.
“I have found that taking B vitamins increases memory retention,” says Karon White Gibson, RN, co-author of “Nurses on our Own” (AuthorHouse Books, 2000) and host of radio talk show “Outspoken with Karon.”
7. Learn for life.
Learning is crucial to enhancing brain activity, and in older adults, one of the biggest revelations to come out of the brain research of the 1990s was that the human brain undergoes significant physiological changes when it is exposed to new insights and experiences, says Nancy Merz Nordstrom, author of "Learning Later, Living Greater: The Secret for Making the Most of Your After- 50 Years" (Sentient Publications, 2006). So the next time you visit the library, bypass the fiction section and explore an area you've never encountered before.
8. Sleep tight.
It seems obvious, but if you are not getting enough sleep at night, your brain won't be as sharp during the more active hours.
Exercise increases circulation to the brain, and lymphatic massage helps drain the body of toxins that would otherwise stay, says Gibson.
10. Consult the great philosophers.
One of the best memory techniques is Aristotle's Method of Loci, says Bill W. Tyler, founder of Bubble Planner creative day planners. Essentially, you connect new information that you want to remember with places in your geographic location. This connection of new to old makes it easier for the brain to store and recall the new information. Many people use pictures to make this connection. For example, if you are going to the store, you may look around your living room and visualize a large jug of milk on your couch or choose to imagine your television is a giant loaf of bread.
11. Exercise your brain.
Get a personal trainer -- for your brain! For example, CogniFit's brain fitness software provides an assessment of several cognitive functions, including memory. It creates and then adjusts a series of mental exercises as the individual becomes more proficient. CogniFit provides updated assessments along the way. Games like MindHabits (for your PC) or Brain Age (for your Nintendo DS) are great personal-brain-trainers as well.
12. Memorize and utilize.
“Many short-term memory problems can be helped by taking immediate action when needed,” says professional speaker Darcy L. Keith. She recommends keeping a voice recorder to remind you of important events, and leaving post-it note reminders around your home and in your purse. Big wall calendars to mark appointments help as well.
13. Try the right supplement.
It's no secret that mental decline occurs as we age. Whether it's common forgetfulness or the all-out scourge of Alzheimer's, poor mental health ruins quality of life, says organic chemist Shane Ellison. Surprisingly, studies show that age-associated mental decline can be slowed or even prevented with the energizing combo of alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) and acetyl-L-carnitine (ALCAR) taken daily. These supplements can be easily found at your local health food store or vitamin retailer.
14. Treat yourself to dark chocolate.
Seriously, it helps! According to recent scientific data, dark chocolate is full of flavonoids, which are antioxidants that naturally boost memory. Remember, though, that this only works in moderation.
15. Memorize the words to your favorite song.
How does this help? By challenging the brain with new information over a period of time, unused parts of the brain will develop the ability to learn new skills, says Dr. Eduardo Locatelli, founder of FloridaNeuroscience.com and a neurologist who implements memory improvement techniques with Alzheimer's and epilepsy patients. Research indicates that if you stimulate your brain by utilizing the five senses and staying more mentally active, you allow your brain to maximize its potential. Studies also show that by challenging the brain with new experiences, some people could be less likely to develop conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer's. The key is to keep learning. The brain is a learning machine -- to keep it strong, you must continually develop new, challenging skills.
16. Enjoy a hot cup of green tea.
Drinking green tea is soothing, good for your memory, and a relaxing experience.
17. Play a card game.
Simple matching and the repetition of counting and adding numbers in your head serve as a great memory-enhancing exercise. Give it a try.
18. Be consistent.
“I always hang my keys in the same place when I walk in the door,” says Jill Nussinow, Registered Dietitian. “I tell people that it doesn't matter if you throw them down on the floor, as long as you do it every time. Consistency is key.”
19. Pray or meditate.
Praying or Meditation is a way to calm the mind, relax the body, and dive into a peaceful state of greater mental clarity and wellness. It has been scientifically proven to reduce various aging signposts, including loss of memory, says Dr. Susan Shumsky, a New York-based author and spiritual advisor.
20. Embrace yoga.
Yoga improves concentration, focus, and memory. In fact, there are many yoga classes specifically designed for seniors (e.g., chair yoga) and many that are suitable for people whose concentration and memory need a boost (e.g., gentle yoga), says Felice Rhiannon, a professional yoga instructor based in California.
21. Avoid too much sodium.
Two major contributors to memory loss are high blood pressure and high cholesterol. A low-sodium diet helps improve memory while boosting heart health. Seniors with memory loss can find easy solutions to cutting salt from their diet without cutting flavor by using veggies with less salt and substituting soups, stews, or casseroles in place of regular canned vegetables or meat.
22. Fill up on folate.
Heidi Skolnik, a renowned nutritionist who specializes in nutrition conditioning, says people who experience fading memory or slight changes in motor coordination skills are advised to consume foods high in folate. Research shows that folate is an essential vitamin for mental growth that can help reduce the risk of brain defects and Alzheimer's. Good dietary sources of folate include orange juice and dark leafy greens like spinach, onions, legumes and broccoli. These foods also contain quercetin, a flavonoid found to promote brain function and lessen the risk of stroke. Fresh Omega-3 rich fish, such as salmon and tuna, also contributes to improved blood flow in the brain.
23. Be friendlier with your computer.
According to Alexander Ben-Israel, executive director of an Assisted Living facility in Portland, Oregon, memory development can be accomplished easily using a computer. His facility has a computer center where residents are trained on various software programs. This helps “wake up” dormant areas in the brain and also assists in memory retention.
24. Get a furry friend.
Without a doubt, a pet will brighten your day. But a furry friend has also been shown to boost spirits and improve health, including memory retention. A dog to run after can also provide an excellent road to physical fitness.
25. Stay organized.
Writing things down and keeping track of your appointments and important papers can help you learn -- and retain -- information.
26. Stay motivated.
Daily affirmations are not as hokey as people may make them seem; they can work! Tell yourself that you want to learn what you need to remember, and that you can learn and remember it. Telling yourself and others that you have a bad memory actually hampers the ability of your brain to remember, while positive mental feedback sets up an expectation of success.