Improving Memory

In many ways, our memories shape who we are. They make up our internal biographies—the stories we tell ourselves about what we've done with our lives. They tell us who we're connected to, who we've touched during our lives, and who has touched us. In short, our memories are crucial to the essence of who we are as human beings.

That means age-related memory loss can represent a loss of self. It also affects the practical side of life, like getting around the neighborhood or remembering how to contact a loved one. It's not surprising, then, that concerns about declining thinking and memory skills rank among the top fears people have as they age.

What causes some people to lose their memory while others stay sharp as a tack? Genes play a role, but so do choices. Proven ways to protect memory include following a healthy diet, exercising regularly, not smoking, and keeping blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar in check. Living a mentally active life is important, too. Just as muscles grow stronger with use, mental exercise helps keep mental skills and memory in tone.

Are certain kinds of "brain work" more effective than others? Any brain exercise is better than being a mental couch potato. But the activities with the most impact are those that require you to work beyond what is easy and comfortable. Playing endless rounds of solitaire and watching the latest documentary marathon on the History Channel may not be enough. Learning a new language, volunteering, and other activities that strain your brain are better bets.

Improving Memory Articles

Can we restore memories we’ve lost?

Memories are stored in pieces in various regions of the brain. The different pieces contain information such as the sight, sound, and emotional reactions that occurred during an experience. The pieces are then linked into a coherent combination called a memory engram. Some research in mice suggests that if the brain is temporarily impaired, access to a memory may be temporarily lost, but it’s still there and has the potential to be retrieved later. It’s not clear yet if lost memories can be restored in humans. (Locked) More »

Tips to retrieve old memories

To reactivate an old memory, one must think about the perceptions that were engaged as the memory was being recorded. These perceptions include images, sounds, smells, tastes, touches, thoughts, or feelings of an experience. To trigger such recorded perceptions, one can look at old photographs, read a familiar poem, hold an old article of clothing, read an old letter, listen to a favorite old song, cook a family recipe, or watch an old movie or TV show. More »

Tips to improve concentration

Older people tend to have more difficulty focusing than young people. This is because age-related brain changes make it harder to filter out stimuli that are not relevant to the task at hand. Tips to try to boost concentration include practicing mindfulness; engaging in cognitive training; and living a healthy lifestyle that includes managing underlying conditions, eating a Mediterranean diet, and getting the recommended amounts of exercise (150 minutes per week) and sleep (seven to eight hours per night). (Locked) More »

Minding your memory

Most adults experience the occasional "senior moment" as they age. While these memory slips may be embarrassing and stressful, they are not always a warning sign of problems like Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. Still, for specific types of everyday forgetfulness, adopting certain lifestyle behaviors and strategies can help people retain and recall information and navigate memory lapses when they arise. More »

Music to your brain

Music has unique effects on the brain, engaging different parts of the brain simultaneously. It has been shown to have the ability to alter mood and even improve memory. Musical memories are stored in same part of the brain as habit-memories, such as riding a bike. This may explain why people with Alzheimer’s disease are sometimes able to remember how to play an instrument, when other memories have faded. (Locked) More »

Sound check on hearing aids

Approximately one in three people ages 65 to 74 has age-related hearing loss. Research continues to show that people with hearing loss who get fitted for hearing aids tend to be more active. Some science has even suggested wearing hearing aids is linked with fewer cognitive issues and a lower risk of depression and dementia. (Locked) More »

How to improve your episodic memory

Older adults who have trouble recalling past events often chalk it up to “senior moments,” but the problem is a breakdown in their episodic memory. While people can’t reverse the effect of aging on this type of memory loss, certain strategies can help a person learn and retain new information, better access past details, and use that knowledge in the future. (Locked) More »

The thinking on brain games

Engaging in brain games, such as crosswords, chess, and bridge, as well as creative outlets like painting, playing an instrument, or learning a language, have not been proven to protect against memory loss. Yet, these pursuits can help with everyday thinking skills and, when teamed with regular exercise, can increase a person’s cognitive reserve. (Locked) More »

Don’t buy into brain health supplements

About 25% of adults over age 50 take a supplement to improve their brain health. While these products promise benefits like enhanced memory and greater attention and focus, research has not found solid proof they work. People can get more brain benefits from doing regular aerobic exercise and adopting a plant-based diet. More »