It seems to be a fact of life that as people grow older they begin to worry that slight memory lapses indicate something larger. For most, little slips in memory are just a normal part of aging and nothing to be concerned about. Know that everyone loses some memory capacity as they age. If you have a knowledge that you are forgetting something but remember what you were trying to think of later, this is considered a normal, healthy part of aging.
But forgetfulness for others can indicate a larger problem. The concern is when the memory doesn’t come back or the senior doesn’t know that they don’t remember – for example, regularly forgetting plans and not realizing they were supposed to be somewhere. If you or a loved one are showing more concerning signs of memory loss, it is best to get evaluated by a physician as soon as possible.
For those with normal age-related forgetfulness, there are some steps that can be taken to keep the mind as sharp as possible.
Healthy choices for memory improvement
- Stay physically active. Keeping active throughout your senior years is one of the best steps you can take for your overall health, including for your brain. Keeping your heart and lungs healthy through exercise has also been shown to improve brain function. Walking is usually a good recommended exercise to begin with if you’re currently not following an exercise program. Of course, before starting any new physical activity, talk with your doctor to get the all clear.
- Maintain social connections. Loneliness has an adverse effect on mental health which can then negatively impact memory. Stay connected with loved ones and friends. Form new friendships through senior groups and volunteering. For seniors with mobility issues, social media and video calls can be a helpful way to stay in touch with loved ones.
- Keep learning new things. Always wanted to improve your French or learn to play an instrument? Start now! Becoming proficient in a new skill requires building on previous lessons, step by step, which regularly uses the part of your brain that is responsible for memory recall.
- Exercise your brain. Activities such as reading, puzzles, or playing games that require strategic thinking are great ways to keep your brain active and engaged.
- Diet. Eat a well-balanced diet. Lots of fruits and veggies and foods low in sodium and fat keep your whole body healthy which bolsters brain health as well.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking leads to an increased risk of dementia which is just one more reason to quit. By stopping, you can bring your risk level of dementia down to what it is for those who do not smoke. If you need help quitting, your primary care physician can help.
- Get your hearing checked. A Johns Hopkins study showed that hearing loss can double the risk of dementia. As hearing loss progresses there is a risk of social isolation as seniors find it more difficult to participate in conversations. The study’s authors observed this in even moderate hearing loss patients so it’s important to correct any hearing issues sooner rather than later.
Can medications help?
Currently, there are no medications that are clinically proven to prevent or improve memory loss for seniors. There are some medications that are used for clinically diagnosed dementia that may lessen the symptoms, but ultimately can not prevent the disease from progressing in the long-run.
There are also supplements that claim to help prevent memory loss and improve brain function. These are not FDA approved and there is not enough research done on the supplements to support these assertions. It’s best to discuss with your doctor the pros and cons of taking one daily.
To sum up, the best way to improve memory for seniors is to live an overall healthy lifestyle. It’s never too late to eat well, exercise or stop smoking. Your primary care doctor can clear you for a new exercise program or help you with diet or smoking cessation. No matter how old you are when making these changes, they will still have a positive impact overall.
For more information, call Abramson Senior Care at 215.371.3400. A senior care manager is available free 24 hours a day, seven days a week.