It is quite common as you grow older to find it harder to remember and carry out mental tasks. Here are tips to help you maximize your memory:
• Exercise. Exercising at least 30 minutes, three times a week, can help increase blood flow to your brain and, some research suggests, help new brain cells grow. In fact, exercising the body aids the brain to grow nerve cells in that area of the brain where working memory resides. The more the exercise the better.
• Get enough sleep. At least seven hours a night can help you concentrate and remember better. Be sure to get the right kind of sleep. If you snore while sleeping and feel drowsy the next day, you may have sleep apnea. If you have untreated sleep apnea, you stop breathing briefly, but repeatedly, while sleeping. This pattern of breathing can deprive the brain of oxygen, including an area of the brain called mammillary bodies, which play an important role in memory, to shrink.
• Minimize multitasking. Doing two or more things at once, like reading this article and listening to the news at the same time, will make it harder for you to recall either later. That’s because multitasking makes it more difficult for you to process detailed information. You typically process new information in the part of your brain called the cerebral cortex, but multitasking forces you to process some information in an area called the striatum, which can handle fewer details than the cortex.
• Eat your carbs. Diets that are very low in carbohydrates, such as vegetables, fruits, pasta and bread, can impede your memory. That’s because your body breaks down carbohydrates (carbs) into a form of sugar called glucose, and your brain runs on glucose. In a recent study, women on a low-carb diet scored significantly lower on memory tests than those eating a well-balanced diet. When those women started eating carbs again, their memories improved.
• Write it down. Keep some sort of journal in which you write down your appointments and carry it with you. This can help you keep track of what you need to do, when and where.
• Double-check your medications with your healthcare provider. Certain anti-anxiety drugs, antidepressants, sleeping pills, blood pressure medications, ulcer drugs, painkillers and allergy meds can affect your memory, especially if you take more than one of these drugs. Talk to your healthcare provider if you start having trouble remembering things after starting a new drug. Adjusting the dose or switching from one medication to another may well solve the problem. If you’re being treated for diabetes, make sure the treatment is just right, as too high or too low blood sugars can cause the memory to fail.
• Trust your memory. Worrying about forgetting can make it harder to remember things. In a study from the journal of Psychology and Aging, a group of healthy older adults who were told that “aging causes forgetfulness” did worse on memory tests than a group that wasn’t told anything about aging and memory. Older adults in a third group who were told that “aging is associated with only a slight decline in memory”, scored the highest of all.
• Give everything a place. For example, designate a specific place for your glasses, such as on your nightstand. Every time you take glasses off, put them on your nightstand. Do the same for other important, easy to lose items, i.e. your wallet, your keys, your medications, your checkbook, your remote control, etc.
If you or someone you know is dealing with memory issues, please talk to your healthcare provider. If you do not currently have one, the healthcare providers at Madison Health Primary Care in London and West Jefferson can help.
Dr. Amanda Williams is a family practitioner at Madison Health Primary Care in London, specializing in family medicine and geriatric medicine. To make an appointment, call 740-845-7500.