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

Worried about your memory? Take action

Even when a person’s memory is still within the normal range, noticing certain changes in mental function and being concerned about them can be an early warning sign of future decline. These include difficulty following a group conversation or the story in a TV show or feeling that one’s mental skills are worse than those of friends who are the same age. Other changes are more typical of harmless age-related memory loss, such as walking into a room and forgetting why or misplacing personal items. Sensing changes like these is a good reason to check with a doctor for an assessment of memory and mental function, which can serve as a baseline to compare future changes against. More »

5 simple tricks to sharpen thinking and memory skills

Fuzzy thinking and memory loss is a normal part of aging. But behavioral strategies and memory-enhancing techniques can help improve the ability to learn new information and retain it over time. One strategy is repetition, such as taking notes and repeating a name after hearing it for the first time. Another strategy is jotting down conversations, thoughts, and activities to reinforce learning. Learning names by associating them with visual images is also helpful, as is remembering lists of information in chunks. (Locked) More »

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 »