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

Boost your thinking skills with exercise

Exercise boosts memory and thinking skills. It does this by reducing insulin resistance, reducing inflammation, and stimulating the production of growth factors, which are chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells. Exercise may also help increase the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory. Exercise can also improve memory and thinking indirectly by improving mood, reducing stress and anxiety, and improving sleep. Problems in each of these areas frequently cause or contribute to cognitive impairment. More »

Sharpen thinking skills with a better night's sleep

When people don’t get enough sleep, their attention and concentration abilities decline. Their reaction time lengthens, they’re inattentive, and they don’t respond as well to environmental signals. That means they can’t take in new information or react to dangerous situations. But people can make up for lost sleep and restore focus and clarity by seeing a doctor about a possible underlying cause of sleep trouble, seeing a sleep specialist, cutting out caffeine and foods that cause heartburn, practicing good sleep hygiene, and exercising earlier in the day. More »

Protect your memory and thinking skills

Any increase in blood sugar levels is linked to an increased risk of developing dementia. Researchers speculate that this may be because high blood sugar levels are causing more vascular disease or because of insulin resistance. There’s no direct proof that reducing blood sugar level reduces dementia risk. However, there are many reasons to keep glucose levels lower. Excess blood sugar can lead to a variety of health problems including heart, eye, kidney, and nerve disease. Heart disease is linked to vascular dementia, caused by narrowed blood vessels in the brain. Shifting to a healthier diet can help. (Locked) More »

Computer-based brain training could help keep your mental tools sharp

Software training programs may help maintain cognitive fitness with aging, but only if they are engaging and continually challenging—and not intimidating. The programs raise scores on standard tests for memory, attention, and concentration, but it is unclear whether this improves a person’s ability to function in daily life. Downsides of software training include the expense and their solitary nature. Volunteering, taking adult enrichment courses, and learning music are ways to stay intellectually challenged in a social way. (Locked) More »

How using computers can help keep your mind sharp

There is evidence that time spent surfing the Internet and playing games on the computer might slow cognitive decline and improve memory. Learning to interact with others online can also help older adults stay connected and reduce loneliness. (Locked) More »