Fitness is not just physical anymore. Maintaining mental function is also very important for older adults. In healthy older adults several factors may influence the ability to retain and retrieve memories. The ability to retain and retrieve memories may be affected by a decrease in neurons, neurotransmitters, or changes in blood flow to the brain. Fortunately these changes usually do not cause an absolute loss of memory, but rather a slowing of the ability to absorb, store and retrieve information. Long-term memory may also take longer to access. The good news is that the more a brain is exercised (at any age) the better you will be able to process and retain information.
There are some proven techniques that you can use to improve your memory. It is not necessary to purchase expensive computer games to stimulate your brain. Try some of the following;
Break up your routine.
Challenge yourself in new ways to increase the use of different brain pathways that you were not using before. For example, try eating with your non-dominant hand.
You need to focus on something for more than eight seconds to effectively transfer it from short- to long-term memory. Minimize any distractions; turn off the TV or cell phone while you are learning.
Don’t stress out.
Stress, anger and anxiety can cause an increase in cortisol levels in the blood stream which can be damaging to the brain. Depression is often misidentified as a memory problem since one of the main symptoms of the condition is an inability to concentrate. While everyone’s brain is selective about which memories make it into long-term storage, people with depression seem only able to retain negative memories.
What is good for the heart is good for the brain.
Diabetes, smoking and elevated cholesterol levels can contribute to the constriction of arteries that deliver oxygen to the brain. Increasing “healthy” fats such as omega-3 fatty acids found in cold-water fish, salmon, walnuts and flaxseed may help.
Drink in moderation.
Alcohol abuse or over consumption has a negative effect on the cells of the brain. However, red wine or red grape juice contains a potentially beneficial flavanoid called Resveratrol. But the limit for benefit is only one glass daily for women or 2 glasses for men.
Practice your skills.
Create visualizations, use your other senses, develop name associations, write things down, organize your information and repeat, repeat, repeat. If you are a visual learner, check your glasses. If you are an auditory learner, listen closely.
Take your vitamins.
Vitamins B6, B12 and folic acid (folate) protect your nerve cells and assist in making red blood cells that carry oxygen to the brain. Eat your spinach, broccoli, strawberries, melons and legumes.
Get your ZZZZZZs.
Sleep is necessary for memory consolidation. Insomnia and other sleeping disorders such as sleep apnea can cause fatigue during the day and inability to concentrate.
Most importantly, move more.
The brain depends on the circulation of oxygen and nutrients from the blood stream. Regular exercise helps the heart pump blood to the brain more effectively as well as ward off plaque build up in the arteries. Studies show that people who are more physically active have better cognitive performance.
Memory is critical for all of us. Try to incorporate some fo the above techniques into your daily routine. Remember, don’t forget to exercise your brain!
If you want more assistance, Chatham Health Club has started an innovative program that combines “brain fitness” with physical fitness.
Carol Penfield M.S., Nurse Practitioner and owner of Chatham Health and Swim club. She can be reached at her office: 508-945-7761