Although all of us senior citizens have our ‘moments,’ recent studies have shown that we can retain our mental clarity by following some basic habits of good health.
Harvard Medical School lists a number of habits that can cut into our chances of suffering from dementia in our old age. They include staying physically active, getting enough sleep, not smoking, having good social connections, limiting alcohol to one drink a day, and eating a balanced diet low in saturated and trans fats.
In addition, they point out several health conditions that can impair cognitive skills, including diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, depression, hypothyroidism, and high LDL (bad) cholesterol. If you suffer from any of these, they recommend that you follow your doctor’s advice.
They list six strategies that Harvard offers to protect and sharpen our memory and our minds.
1. Keep learning
According to experts challenging your brain with mental exercise may activate processes that help maintain individual brain cells and stimulate communication between them. They also suggest pursuing a hobby, learning a new skill or volunteering for a project that involves a skill you don’t usually use.
2. Use all your senses
The more senses employed in learning , the more likely your brain will retain the memory. In a study some adults were shown images with a smell as well. Later when shown a set of images they had excellent recall of the ones that had smells accompanying them. Even though the smells were no longer present, the subjects recalled them.
3. Believe in yourself
Don’t subscribe to stereotypes about aging contributing to failing memory. Studies showed that middle-aged and older learners did worse on memory tasks when exposed to negative stereotypes about aging and memory and better when the messages are positive.
4. Prioritize your brain use
Take advantage of calendars, planners, maps, shopping lists and address books to keep routine information accessible. Designate a place in your home for your glasses, keys and other items that you use often.
5. Repeat what you want to know
Reinforce what you have just heard and want to remember by repeating it. This guarantees that you are paying attention and reinforces the memory connections in your brain.
6. Space it out
They suggest that rather that just repeating for rote memory, instead restudy the essentials over longer periods of time, e.g. once can hour, then every few hours. This is particularly valuable with more complicated information.
Harvard Medical School has just published Improving Memory: Understanding age-related memory loss available here.