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Keep Your Memory Sharp
Many factors can affect your ability to remember—a hectic lifestyle, aging, stress, chronic disease, and certain medications. But, there are steps you can take to sharpen your mind and help preserve your memory.
Challenge Your Brain
Regularly challenging your mind may help to keep it in top shape. The more you learn, the more new connections you make among your brain cells. Keeping mentally active is not as hard as it may sound. Try some of these mental exercises:
- Crossword puzzles—use a dictionary if you need it; you will learn more that way
- Crafts, such as wood working or sewing
- Hobbies, such as gardening or building model airplanes
- Socialize—visit old friends or join groups to meet new ones
- Read the daily news, a good book, or a magazine geared toward your interests
- Learning a new language or musical instrument
- Take a class, whether it be art history or tai chi
- Traveling—Experience the food, history, and culture of your destination
- Learning to use a new electronic device
- Going to museums, the theater, or thought-provoking movies
- Changing things in your daily life, such as reversing your pattern in the grocery store or brushing your teeth using your nondominant hand
Use Memory Aids
There is no need to remember every detail on your own. These memory aids can help:
- Calendars and day planners
- Electronic organizers to store all sorts of helpful information—these devices can send alerts to remind you of appointments
- A book of days to record birthdays, anniversaries, and other occasions that occur on the same date every year
- Detailed to-do lists and strategically placed sticky notes
- Quick study sessions—before a gathering, review who will be there so their names will be fresh in your mind
- Establish routines—for example, keep your keys, wallet, and umbrella in the same place all the time or take medication with your morning glass of juice
Live a Healthy Life
Many actions that will keep your body strong will do the same for your mind. For example:
Among the many benefits of regular exercise are increased blood flow to the brain and decreased risk of certain diseases that can interfere with memory function. One study found that even moderate exercise has a beneficial effect. Examples of moderate exercise include:
- Playing tennis
- Doing water aerobics
- Walking 2 miles
On a daily basis, try to set aside 30 minutes for exercise. You can also break up the 30 minutes, so that you do 3, 10-minute sessions.
It can be tough to remember what is important when your mind is cluttered. Make time for relaxation. Choose activities that calm you down, and make it routine.
Talk to your doctor about the medications that you take. Some may be unnecessary. Also, healthy lifestyle habits may lower the need for certain drugs.
Talk to Your Doctor About Herbs and Supplements
Malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies can impair your mental function. For example, vitamin B12 deficiency can cause a range of symptoms, including confusion. But, what if your nutritional needs are being met? Can herbs and supplements still offer a benefit? Researchers have investigated a range of natural remedies, such as ginkgo, ginseng, and the supplement phosphatidylserine (PS). So far, though, the evidence is inconsistent as to whether these products can improve memory or thinking.
If you are interested in taking herbs and supplements, talk to your doctor first because they may interact with other medications that you are taking.
Manage Chronic Conditions
Side effects of high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease can interfere with mental function. Many of the lifestyle steps discussed here can help manage these conditions. Strive to eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, learn healthy ways to handle stress, and follow your doctor's advice for your condition.
You can't protect your brain if you don't take steps to prevent injury. Falls and accidents can lead to concussions, or more severe head injuries which may affect brain function. Here are some ways to reduce your risk of injury:
- Always wear a seat belt
- Equip your home with safety devices, eliminate tripping hazards, and add improved lighting
- Wear a helmet when you ride a bicycle or motorcycle, or go skiing
- Wear proper fitting shoes, especially if you walk or run
- Ask for a ride or plan to run errands during the day if you have trouble driving at night or in bad weather
Some changes aren't easy and you may not like doing some of them. Start making changes slowly and choose activities that interest you. Changes are easier if you buddy-up, so call a friend to tag along with you.
Mental Health America
Canadian Mental Health Association
Mental Health Canada
Brain health. Alzheimer's Association website. Available at: http://www.alz.org/we%5Fcan%5Fhelp%5Fbrain%5Fhealth%5Fmaintain%5Fyour%5Fbrain.asp. Accessed December 1, 2015.
Enhancing memory and mental function. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/biomedical-libraries/natural-alternative-treatments. Updated September 2014. Accessed December 1, 2015.
Ginkgo. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/biomedical-libraries/natural-alternative-treatments. Updated September 2014. Accessed December 1, 2015.
Ginseng. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/biomedical-libraries/natural-alternative-treatments. Updated September 2014. Accessed December 1, 2015.
Important facts about falls. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/Falls/adultfalls.html. Updated September 21, 2015. Accessed December 1, 2015.
Mild cognitive impairment. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated November 17, 2015. Accessed December 1, 2015.
Phosphatidylserine. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/biomedical-libraries/natural-alternative-treatments. Updated September 2014. Accessed December 1, 2015.
Stay mentally active. Alzheimer's Association website. Available at: http://www.alz.org/we%5Fcan%5Fhelp%5Fstay%5Fmentally%5Factive.asp. Accessed December 1, 2015.
1/11/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Snitz BE, O'Meara ES, Carlson MC, et al. Ginkgo biloba for preventing cognitive decline in older adults: a randomized trial. JAMA. 2009;302(24):2663-2670.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 11/2015
- Update Date: 12/01/2015