Keep Your Memory Sharp
Many factors can affect your ability to remember—a hectic lifestyle, aging, stress, chronic disease, and certain medications. But there are steps you can take to sharpen your mind and help preserve your memory.
Challenge Your Brain
Regularly challenging your mind increases blood flow to the brain and keeps it in top shape. Good mental exercises include:
- Crossword puzzles—Use a dictionary if you need it; you'll learn more that way.
- Brainteasers—Try some!
- Crafts, such as wood working and sewing
- Hobbies, such as gardening and building model airplanes
- Socializing—Visit old friends or join groups to meet new ones.
- Learning a new language
- Taking a class, whether it be art history or Tai Chi
- Traveling—Experience the food, history, and culture of your destination
- Learning to use a computer
- Going to museums, the theater, or thought-provoking movies
- Changing things in your daily life, such as reversing your pattern in the grocery store or brushing your teeth using your nondominant hand
Use Memory Aids
There's no need to remember every detail on your own. These memory aids can help:
- Calendars and day planners
- Electronic organizers to store all sorts of helpful information—These devices can "beep" to remind you of appointments.
- A book of days to record birthdays, anniversaries, and other occasions that occur on the same date every year
- Detailed "to-do" lists and strategically placed sticky notes
- Quick "study" sessions—Before a gathering, review who will be there so their names will be fresh in your mind.
- Establish routines—For example, keep your keys, wallet, and umbrella in the same place all the time or take medication with your 8:00 AM glass of juice
Live a Healthful Life
Many actions that will keep your body strong will do the same for your mind. For example:
Talk to Your Doctor About Herbs and Supplements
Research studies have shown that the herb Ginkgo biloba, the supplement phosphatidylserine (PS), and the herb ginseng may be helpful in improving age-related memory loss. Also, if you have a vitamin B12 deficiency, this may impair mental funtion.
Talk to your doctor before taking any herbs or supplements because they may interact with other medications.
Among the many benefits of regular exercise are increased blood flow to the brain and decreased risk of certain diseases that can interfere with memory function. One study found that even moderate exercise has a beneficial effect. Examples of "moderate" exercise are:
- Playing 18 holes of golf once a week, without a cart
- Playing tennis twice a week
- Walking one mile per day
It can be tough to remember what's important when your mind is cluttered. Make time for relaxation. Choose activities that calm you down, and make it routine.
Manage Chronic Conditions
Side effects of high blood pressure , diabetes , and heart disease can interfere with mental function. Many of the lifestyle steps discussed here can help manage these conditions. Strive to eat a healthful diet, exercise regularly, get stress under control, and follow your doctor's advice for your condition.
Review the medications you take with your doctor. Some may be unnecessary. Also, healthful lifestyle habits may lower the need for certain drugs.
Canadian Mental Health Association
Mental Health Canada
Enhancing memory and mental function. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/thisTopic.php?marketID=15topicID=114. Updated May 2008. Accessed June 16, 2008.
Memory loss with aging: what's normal, what's not. Family Doctor.org website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/seniors/common-older/124.html. Updated December 2006. Accessed June 16, 2008.
Last reviewed May 2008 by Ryan Estévez, MD, PhD, MPH
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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