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

Memory slips? Consider these seven common causes of forgetfulness

A variety of factors can contribute to general forgetfulness. They include poor health, medications, sleeplessness, lack of exercise, stress, depression, and alcohol use. Thinking speed can also slow down with aging, which could make it take longer to remember things. Anyone concerned with changes in memory should discuss it with a doctor. It also helps to use simple memory-support tricks, such as putting personal items like keys and a wallet in the same place every day and avoiding multitasking. More »

Distracting music may trip up older memories

A study found that listening to distracting instrumental music might impair the ability to memorize pairs of names and faces in older people. In younger study participants, the music had no effect on memory recall for this task. (Locked) More »

Blood sugar on the brain

Years of poorly controlled diabetes have a devastating effect on the cardiovascular system, kidneys, and brain. High blood sugar may also harm thinking and memory power even in people who do not have diabetes. In a group of men with cardiovascular disease or risk factors, higher-than-normal blood sugar was linked to all forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. (Locked) More »

Review finds no sign of memory loss from statins

A study found no convincing scientific evidence that taking a statin can cause memory loss or other changes in mental functioning. The new research review covered randomized clinical trials that included nearly 47,000 people. (Locked) More »

Can memory woes foretell a stroke?

Well-educated people who report memory problems may face a higher risk of stroke. Education helps people develop more widespread brain networks, which enables them to compensate for damage from tiny, unnoticed strokes. But these small strokes can foretell larger, more serious strokes. Because educated people are more likely to notice subtle memory changes, their memory complaints are a more reliable predictor of stroke than memory complaints in less-educated people. Controlling blood pressure and exercising regularly are important ways to prevent strokes.  (Locked) More »

Music can boost memory and mood

Music aids formation and recovery of memory. The film Alive Inside documents improvements in responsiveness, memory, and speech in people with dementia who listen to individualized playlists on MP3 players. More »

Where did I put that? Tips to improve your memory

Using tools such as calendars, cellphone alarms, and organizing apps can aid with memory. Low-tech techniques like saying names aloud and breaking down tasks into smaller chunks can also be effective ways to remember new information.  More »