Currently, there are around 800,000 people in the UK who suffer from some form of dementia – a family of diseases characterised by memory loss, disorganisation and difficulties with speech and critical thinking (Alzheimer’s Society). This number is steadily increasing, with financial costs amounting to a staggering £23 billion for the current year. With proper habits and the right support, however, there are many things we can do to prevent the onset of one of the earliest symptoms of dementia, particularly memory loss.
Exercise your brain.
Even in middle and old age, your brain has an amazing ability to learn novel concepts, adapt to new information, establish new neural pathways and improve memory. With proper stimulation, such as engaging in new and unfamiliar activities, performing challenging work that requires mental effort, learning to play an instrument or understand a foreign language and even watching programs that expose you to fresh ideas, you can expect to remember more. Improved memory requires you to “use it…or lose it.”
Exercise your body.
Regular physical activity such as aerobic exercise increases the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain, enhances the effects of useful brain chemicals and protects brain cells from degeneration. Exercise further reduces the risk of developing diseases that can cause memory deterioration, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Sleep on it.
One of the biggest culprits responsible for memory deterioration is lack of sleep. Your brain cannot function optimally when it is deprived of sleep and the chance to consolidate memory and perform other memory-enhancing activities that only occur during the deepest stages of sleep. Seven hours of sleep every night aids in improving short-term as well as long-term memory.
Eat the right kind of food at the right time.
Good nutrition and a balanced diet are crucial to memory enhancement. Supplementation with hefty doses of Omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants such as berries, broccoli and spinach further promotes optimum brain and memory functions. Partaking of 5 – 6 small and healthy meals during the day instead of 2 – 3 large meals appears to aid memory by regulating dips in blood sugar.
Cope with stress and other negative emotions positively.
Especially when prolonged, negative emotions such as stress and depression, induce the secretion of hormones which can damage, not only brain cells, but the hippocampus – the central part of the brain that is responsible for forming new memories and retrieving old ones. To counter stress, you may try meditation, yoga, stretching exercises and other relaxation techniques. For more serious and chronic conditions, seek immediate professional treatment to reduce the chances of compounding the problem and experiencing related ill effects such as an impaired memory.
Cultivate healthy relationships.
Having healthy and meaningful relationships as well as a well-established support system of friends and loved ones has been found to be crucial to mental and cognitive health. Those with very active social lives demonstrate the lowest rate of memory decline. Hanging out with friends, volunteering for civic duties and joining a club have tremendous memory-boosting advantages.
Pay more attention.
You need to pay more attention to what you are doing while you are doing it. In this world of multi-tasking and stimuli overload, it is easy to forget where we parked your car or whether we turned the lights off, simply because our mind was on something else while our body was performing these tasks. We cannot remember something that we didn’t pay attention to in the first place. Train yourself to focus on one thing at a time and not to give in to distractions.
One of the best ways to remember where you put things is to have a designated place for frequently used and misplaced items such as keys, pens, and eyeglasses. Always storing and returning items to their proper places also saves you much time looking for them and affords you more time to do other productive things. For keeping track of appointments, payment dates, and telephone numbers, you may use a planner or electronic organiser. For chores and errands, make to-do lists that you frequently consult and update. Improved organisation will allow you to devote more efforts and resources to focusing and remembering the less routine things that you need to attend to.
Say what you are doing.
You can force yourself to pay attention to what you are doing by saying what you are doing out loud. You can say, “I am turning the stove off,” “I put the note in my left coat pocket” or “I will go to the study to get the scissors,” while you are doing these things. Hearing it spoken out loud strengthens the memory and leaves you no room for doubt.
Believe that your memory can improve.
Many people think that they have a poor memory and are convinced that there is nothing to be done about it. They go through life believing that they are simply not adept at remembering names, phone numbers or birthdays. As such, they don’t even exert effort to remember these types of information, making their “disability” an excuse for not even trying. If you wish to empower your memory, you must believe that memory can be improved and commit to doing what you can to accomplish this. Celebrate your small accomplishments to keep yourself motivated.
A healthy memory depends on a healthy brain and body. Know that memory decay is not inevitable and that not all aspects of memory deteriorate with age. It is also helpful to know that even when memory starts to falter, maintaining a positive fighting attitude and equipping yourself with these strategies can help you win the battle.