Are memory problems just a normal part of aging?
We all tend to have memory problems as we get older – forgetting where we put our car keys, or the name of someone we meet, or even where our car is parked after going shopping.
Age-related memory loss and dementia are very different conditions. Often our memory lapses are caused by lack of concentration, fatigue, stress, medication, or simply distractions that filter into our daily lives.
Aging makes our memory worse because we start to slowly lose brain cells starting in our 20s and certain chemicals these cells need also decline. Thus, we are not as mentally sharp at 60 or 70 as we were at 25.
There are ways to promote memory as we age. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends incorporating physical activity into your daily routine. At least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity – spread throughout the week – can have great benefits in improving memory because physical activity increases blood flow to the brain and the whole body.
Keeping your memory clear includes organizing and maintaining. We are more likely to be forgetful if our homes or areas are cluttered and papers are in disarray. Make notes, jot down tasks, meetings and other events on a calendar or electronic planner. In addition, you have a dedicated place for keys, wallet and mobile phones. Also, too much multi-tasking can limit our concentration, so don’t try to do too many tasks at once and limit the fun.
Mentally stimulating activities keep our brains fit and could stave off memory loss or cognitive deficits. Learn something new. Take alternate routes when driving. Eat and/or brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand. Volunteer for a community organization.
Lifestyle habits also affect memory. Diet and nutrition play a role in a healthy brain. If cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar are too high, the blood vessels in and around the brain become clogged or damaged. A Harvard study found that people who ate more saturated fat (meat and dairy) performed worse on memory tests than those who ate less. The Mediterranean diet—rich in omega-3s, olive oil, and fresh produce—for example, has been associated with protecting thinking and memory.
Getting regular sleep should be a priority as we age, as good quality sleep helps your brain memorize so you can access them later. Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep a day. A good rule of thumb is that for every two hours we are awake, we need 45 minutes of sleep.
Chronic medical conditions can also affect our memory. Depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, chemotherapy – all can affect our memory and ability to concentrate. Medications and treatment recommendations should be reviewed regularly with a physician.
When memory loss affects your ability to perform normal daily activities, or if you notice that your memory is getting worse, share these concerns with your doctor, who can administer appropriate tests and assessments to check your memory and problem-solving skills.
Questions about Alzheimer’s or related disorders can be directed to Dana Territo, author of What My Grandchildren Taught Me About Alzheimer’s, at [email protected]