Help With Your Memory?
A major worry among older adults is memory loss. Being forgetful at times is a normal part of growing older and not always Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, because mild changes in memory and other cognitive skills occur during the aging process.
Seniors concerned about their memory may want to consider the many activities that can help sharpen thinking skills, boost recall and memory retention. Here are 10 ways to improve your memory:
1. Use association
Association allows you to consider how two or more things are related. This method requires focus and attention, two brain functions that can improve memory. You can also use mental images with association. For example, if you meet a man named Mike, you may associate an image of a microphone to remember the person’s name. Associations work best when they are clear, distinctive, and relevant to what you want to memorize. Linking it to something fun or humorous makes it even easier to memorize.
2. Expand your working memory
Working memory allows you to store temporary information long enough to process it and use it while doing something else. Working memory also involves concentration and following instructions. For example, you have memorized the address to your destination but you are being given directions (“Look for a gas station on the corner and turn right on that street”) and concentrating on driving all at the same time. You can come up with your own ways of expanding your working memory. For instance, you can try to recall the items you need at a grocery store without writing them down. Visualizing what you need helps to make memorizing them easier.
3. Memorize your surroundings
Knowing what is happening around you at any given time, also known as situational awareness, is not something that is easily learned. But practicing this technique has been known to greatly improve memory. One technique involves looking at your surroundings. For example, if you are at a restaurant, look at the arrangement of the people sitting near your table, look for the emergency exit doors, and other details of the room. Then close your eyes and mentally picture your surroundings. As you practice, your memory will get more expansive and detailed as you practice situational awareness.
4. Stay organized
Studies have found that too many distractions can impair memory and increase stress and anxiety. For instance, clutter in a home or an office in disarray can cause you to forget appointments, assignments, or waste time looking for important items that have been misplaced. Staying organized limits distractions, reduces stress, and makes it easier to remember specific tasks or information. In addition, keeping track of activities in a notebook, calendar, or electronic planner creates a sense of accomplishment after completing each activity.
5. Use Mnemonic Techniques
Mnemonic techniques involve using acronyms, acrostics, songs, phrases, or images to remember information. Using something fun or familiar is best. For example, the acronym HOMES is used to remember the five Great Lakes: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior. Also, one way of remembering Michigan on a map is to look for the shape of a rabbit (Michigan’s Upper Peninsula) jumping over the shape of a mitten (Michigan’s Lower Peninsula).
6. Stay Physically Active
A growing number of studies are finding that regular physical activity can improve memory and thinking skills. For example, a 2022 study published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia suggests that older adults who remain active have higher levels of a brain protein known to enhance communication between nerve cells, which in turn boosts memory and cognition. This protective effect was also found in active older adults whose brain showed signs of dementia. The federal Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend adults get at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking; and 75 minutes (1.25) a week of vigorous aerobic activity, such as swimming or jogging.
7. Get enough sleep
Studies have linked sleep deprivation, whether from restless sleep or interrupted sleep, to memory loss. A lack of sleep interferes with learning and concentration. Prioritize getting enough healthy and restful sleep. Health experts say adults should consistently get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night. If snoring is keeping you awake, it may indicate a sleep condition that should be discussed with your doctor.
8. Use A Larger Computer Screen
When memorizing information from an article, a work document, or something from a photo, use a larger display screen. Larger visuals are easier to remember. Smaller screens lead to a narrower visual focus and are not as easy to recall as larger visuals.
9. Use the Chunking Method
Chunking is a process of grouping different bits of information together to make them easier to remember. Chunking helps the short-term memory store information more effectively because details are broken down into manageable chunks. For example, a 10-digit phone number is easier to remember when it is broken down into two sets of three numbers and one set of four numbers. You can also memorize a short grocery list by chunking. For instance, you might have oranges, a pot, tea, dishwashing liquid, an iron, and canned vegetables on your list. As a way to remember the items, you can chunk them into edible food (oranges, canned vegetables, and tea) and non-edible food (dishwashing liquid, an iron, and a pot). You can take this one step further by using mnemonic techniques and turning them into acronyms: COT (canned vegetables, oranges, tea) and DIP (dishwashing liquid, iron, pot).
10. Stay socially active
Spending time with others requires you to memorize names, recognize faces, and remember events from previous interactions. Socializing can stimulate attention and memory, and even reduce the risk of dementia. For example, a 2017 study found people 80 years old and older who have strong social connections with family and friends have cognitive ability at least as good as people in their 50s and 60s. The older adults also reported having “more satisfying, high-quality relationships compared to their cognitively average, same-age peers,” the study says. Participating in group activities might help you develop healthy lifestyle habits and can alleviate stress better than activities you do on your own.
While there are many more ways to boost memory, consulting with a healthcare provider may become necessary when forgetfulness and behavioral changes begin to interfere with your daily living activities.