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

A stronger heart may help keep your brain young

People with higher levels of cardiovascular fitness may do better on tests that measure memory, motor skills, and executive function (mental skills to manage time, plan and organize, and recall details) than people who aren’t as fit. Exercise delivers extra oxygen to the brain and also seems to stimulate the growth of new cells and blood vessels in the brain. Experts believe that meeting the federal physical activity guidelines may help keep a person’s brain young, or at least slow down the normal decline in age-related thinking skills. (Locked) More »

Savor the gifts of the aging mind

The mind changes with aging but not all the changes are negative. Memory and mental sharpness may decline, but older people experience less anxiety and depression than middle-aged people. Adapting to changes is better than becoming frustrated. (Locked) More »

Can brain stimulation aid memory and brain health?

Two types of noninvasive brain stimulation—transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS)—are available today. TMS has been cleared by the FDA for treating depression. It is being tested for treating nerve damage, pain, neurologic disorders, and psychological conditions. Similarly, tDCS is promising but should be considered experimental. More »

What's involved in memory screening and testing?

Changes in memory and thinking skills can be evaluated initially with a mini mental status exam. If the exam indicates possible cognition decline, more thorough neuropsychological testing may be necessary. This is conducted by a neuropsychologist, and usually involves a conversation with the doctor, then a few hours of testing. It’s also key to consider physical health, since underlying conditions can interfere with memory and thinking skills, such as poor sleep, depression, and urinary tract infections. When testing is completed, a doctor will put the information together to determine what could be causing changes in memory and thinking. (Locked) More »