That’s using your noggin
Do you ever walk into a room and discover that you can’t for the life of you remember what you came in there for? Do you sometimes struggle to remember a specific word? Do names of people you haven’t seen in a while escape you every now and then? Well, you might be relieved to know that according to Harvard Medical School , as we age, fleeting memory problems like these are simply the result of the normal changes that happen in the structure and function of our brains.
The good news is there are ways to protect and sharpen our minds as we age, according to Harvard. They have compiled seven simple ways to keep your brain at its best and brightest.
- Keep learning. Education gets you into the habit of being mentally active, so challenge your brain by pursuing a new hobby, learning a new skill, doing crossword or jigsaw puzzles, taking a class, reading regularly, playing chess or bridge, studying music or even designing a new garden layout. Anything that prods your brain into thinking in new and different ways will help to preserve brain connections. It’s an ongoing process, so start early and make learning a priority in your life no matter how old you are.
- Use all your senses. The more senses you use when you’re learning something, the more of your brain will be engaged in the learning and memory-making process. So feed your brain by using all your senses as often as you can. Focus on touch, smell, sound and taste by trying new and exotic recipes, visiting a botanical garden and finding out more about the plants you’re seeing, smelling and touching; or taking a sculpting class.
- Believe in yourself. Sometimes a poor memory can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. When exposed to negative stereotypes about aging and memory, middle-aged and older learners do worse on memory tasks. Not surprisingly, they do better when exposed to positive messaging about memory and age. Believe that you do actually have some control over your mind and memory, and be committed to maintaining or improving your brain.
- Economize your brain use. Don’t rely on your brain to remember small, everyday details and dates—that just wastes mental energy. Make lists and use calendars, maps and address books so you can concentrate on learning new things and remembering the important stuff. Your brain has bigger fish to fry! Also, declutter your space and have designated spots for things like keys, eyeglasses and purses so you don’t have to hunt for them every day.
- Repeat what you want to know. In order to reinforce a memory or connection, repeat something you’ve just heard or learned out loud, or write it down. For example, if you want to remember where you just put something down, tell yourself out loud where it is. Also, never hesitate to ask someone to repeat new information.
- Space it out. Repetition is a good learning tool, but it’s most efficient when you space it out. Just like cramming for a test the night before isn’t a great way to study, neither is trying to remember something by repeating it many times in a short period. Space it out, and gradually increase the amount of time in between each repetition. Start with once an hour, then every few hours, then once a day.
- Make a mnemonic. If you really have to remember something, make a mnemonic out of it. It could be a word (like RICE to remember first-aid advice for injured limbs: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation) or a sentence or phrase (like the classic, “Every good boy deserves fudge” for the musical notes E, G, B, D, F on the lines of the treble clef).
A wee bit of a fuzzy memory on occasion is all part of the natural aging process, but if you notice that you or a loved one has troubling memory or behavioral issues that are out of character and impacting your daily life, it makes sense to speak with your healthcare provider. Visit Alzheimer Society Canada for a list of 10 warning signs to be aware of.
In the meantime, practice the seven simple steps listed in this article to keep your brain humming and your mind active and engaged as you age.
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