Sep 2022 | By Catherine Daley
Does this sound familiar? “I just walked into a room, but I can’t remember why.” Or, “I know the name of that actress in the movie that I watched last night, but I can’t come up with it right now. It’ll hit me later.”
And when the answer does wiggle its way into our consciousness, it is very much an “Aha!” moment. These comments seem to become more frequent as we coast into our twilight years. We may even adopt little tricks to help us to remember things that we have to do.
We know so much more about the brain these days. Neuroplasticity, or brain plasticity, refers to the brain’s ability to change throughout life. The brain can even be retrained in the event of a stroke. So it makes sense that if we engage our brains in various strategies and exercises, it will help to maintain cognitive fitness.
Lifestyle and attitude
Staying physically active is not only important for our bodies, but for our brains. After exercising, choose a brain-healthy meal. One study showed that by following a Mediterranean diet, which includes fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and olive oil helps to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.
In addition, not smoking, limiting alcohol, and getting enough sleep can drastically improve your cognitive health.
Step it up a notch – or two
The Harvard Medical School recommends the following:
A higher level of education is associated with better mental functioning in old age. If you get in the habit of being mentally active, it will help to keep your brain strong. Challenge your brain with mental exercise by pursuing a hobby, learning a new skill, mentoring, or volunteering.
Use all of your senses
Smells often trigger memories. In one study, adults were shown a series of emotionally neutral images, each presented along with a smell. There weren’t any instructions to remember what they saw. Later they were shown a set of images, and they had excellent recall for the odour-paired pictures – especially those associated with pleasant smells. Challenge all of your senses to venture into the unfamiliar.
Believe in yourself
Older learners, who are exposed to negative stereotypes about aging and memory, do worse than those who are positive about memory preservation. Even jokes about ‘senior moments’ (too often) are less likely to help to maintain memory skills. If you believe that you can improve, you translate that into practice, and have a better chance of keeping your mind sharp.
Prioritize your brain use
You don’t need to use mental energy about your granddaughter’s birthday or where you put your keys. Instead, concentrate on learning and remembering new things. Use tools, like smart phones, calendars, planners, maps, lists, file folders and address books to keep routine information accessible. In addition, have designated places for the things that you use most often, like your glasses, purse and keys.
Repeat what you want to know
When you really want to remember something that you’ve just heard, read or thought, write it down or repeat it out loud. By doing so reinforces the connection. If you’ve just been introduced to someone, you might want to ask, “So Ted, where did you meet Rachel?” to help remember the names of each person.
Space it out
While repetition is important as a learning tool, make sure that it’s properly timed. If you were cramming for an exam, it’s best not to repeat something many times in a short period of time. It’s better to space out periods of study. By doing so, it helps to improve memory, especially if it’s complicated information.
As the body’s command centre, the brain sends messages to your muscles to tell them to move. It also moderates our mood, energy levels and motivation. Keeping the brain active is one of the best things that you can do for yourself.
Just remember, an old dog CAN learn new tricks!