One of the things most people fear with increasing age is decline in memory. This is a justifiable fear to have.
As we age, there are changes in memory and mental functioning that can occur. Most of the fleeting memory problems that we experience as a result of age, are due to normal changes in the structure and function of the brain. These changes slow cognitive processes, making it more difficult for those affected to learn new things quickly or to filter out distractions that can interfere with memory and learning.
For example, most people over the age of 50 notice that it gets more difficult for them at times to remember names, numbers, or the title of a book they just read, or a movie they recently saw.
As you can imagine, this can be quite frustrating.
There are instances where memory issues can be more serious in nature, and for that it is recommended that you consult a doctor.
The good news is that decades of research have resulted in various strategies we can use to protect and sharpen our minds.
Keep reading for 12 ways to keep your mind sharp and maintain brain function.
1. Get a good night’s sleep
Getting a good night’s sleep is vital to maintaining a sharp memory and good brain function. For older adults, the recommendation is 7 - 9 hours of sleep each night. This will also help you maintain good energy levels throughout the day.
Reading books, online material, and other forms of literature can help stimulate the brain.A Mayo Clinic Study found that reading books (in addition to other cognitive activities) can lead to a 50 percent decrease in your chances of developing dementia. Making it a practice of reading for at least half an hour every day can go a long way towards keeping your mind engaged and sharp.
3. Be mindful of your diet
A healthy diet and proper nutrition is instrumental to maintaining a healthy brain. Research has proven that healthier diets can lower the risk or delay onset of Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. A Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fish and leafy vegetables is linked to better brain health in later years. It is also beneficial to incorporate whole grains, fish, lentils, beans, and nuts in your diet to help improve cognitive health.
4. Listen to Music
Music takes up large areas of your brain and stimulate the senses. So go ahead and put on your favourite tunes (dancing allowed!).
5. Keep learning!
Have you always wanted to learn something new or take a class? Try learning a new language or how to play a musical instrument. Or work on improving your computer proficiency. Learning has been found to have major benefits for older adults. By learning something new, you increase your brain activity, and stimulate new brain cell growth, even at an older age. The brain is like a muscle and learning is like exercise for your brain.
Social interaction has been shown to be beneficial in maintaining good cognitive health. One study conducted over 12 years, found that seniors who were regularly social had a 70% lower rate of cognitive decline than those who weren’t. This is quite significant and shows the importance of maintaining social relationships. To remain social in later years, make an effort to attend group activities, take classes or volunteer.
7. Repeat what you want to know
Repeating what you want to know and writing it down, can help reinforce memory or connection. For example, if you place an item in a location that is different from where you would regularly place it, tell yourself out loud what you’ve done so that you can easily recall it.
8. Use all your senses
Make an effort to engage as many of your senses as possible, especially when you are learning something new. This will help you to retain what you are learning. For example, if you are trying a new dish, try to guess all the ingredients by fully utilizing as many senses as possible.
9. Play games and puzzles
According to a study in the Archives of Neurology, playing games can help prevent Alzheimer's. Even a few minutes a day can improve your creativity, memory and decision-making abilities. So pull out an old jigsaw puzzle (the more pieces, the better) or open up a magazine or newspaper and try the crossword puzzle or a Sudoku. These activities keep the brain active and engaged for hours - and this is what you want! Even strategy-based video games can have a beneficial effect on your brain.
10. Keep Writing
Making the time to write can also help to sharpen the memory. Making it a practice to write out your messages completely and with correct punctuation, rather than abbreviations. This will help keep your memory sharp and engaged, and help you to maintain your communications skills.
11. Engage in creative activities
Creative activities, such as painting, pottery, knitting and other arts and crafts projects can help you to keep your memory sharp. They also help to relieve stress, which in turn helps to improve mood and brain health.
Regular exercise is not only good for maintain physical health, but it is also a valuable part of supporting good cognitive health. One study found a strong connection between cardiovascular health and cognitive function. Aerobic exercise benefits the brain by improving it’s neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity refers to changes the brain undergoes when new neural connections are produced. The creation of these new connections can improve memory and executive function in the brain.