For a long time it was believed that memory loss was an inevitable part of aging. Thankfully, this theory has been proved otherwise by modern science. Brain cells are capable of forming new connections throughout one’s lifespan. With a few adjustments, an elderly person can improve their memory and live a comfortable and fulfilling life well into old age.
What Is Memory?
Memory is defined as the ability to store, encode, and retrieve information from the brain at will. It is also the sum total of our recall abilities encompassing our experiences, feelings and information we have acquired over time.
Memory has three processes namely encoding, storage and retrieval. When the brain receives new information, it is first encoded into a form that can be stored and retrieved when needed. The retrieval process is what helps us recall information and experiences.
Memory can be either short term or long term. Short term memory can last for as short as a few seconds. This is information such as the perfume worn by a passerby. It can also last for a few minutes or hours, this is like the sensation of pain from a prick.
Long term memory is lasting memory and is usually outside of a person’s consciousness. Long term memory can last from days to decades, for example your wedding day or a day when you lost a significant person.
Memory Changes In Old Age
You walk into the supermarket then all of a sudden you have forgotten what you took you there. This rarely happens in one’s youthful years. But as one advances in age, they begin experiencing such lapses in memory at regular intervals.
As you grow older, physiological changes in your brain begin to affect your learning and recall capacity. You will find yourself mixing up information and taking longer to recall things that happened in the recent past. Slowing down of mental processes is a usual part of the aging process due to some inevitable changes in the brain. This however should not be confused with neurological changes in the brain that may cause irreversible brain deterioration such as in Alzheimer’s.
What Causes Memory Loss In Old Age?
Memory loss associated with old age is caused by the following factors:
- Deterioration of the hippocampus which is responsible for memory formation and retrieval
- Mental health imbalances such as in depression
- Side effects of prescription drugs
- Vitamin B12 deficiency
Memory loss associated with aging does not affect the following capacities:
- Wisdom acquired through life experiences
- Ability to form reasonable arguments
- Ability to perform simple activities of living such as bathing
Symptoms of Age Related Memory Loss
A person experiencing age related memory loss may show some of the following symptoms:
- Forgetting where they have placed certain things such as house keys
- Forgetting people’s names
- Getting lost in familiar places
- Losing track of thoughts in the middle of a conversation
- Forgetting what you were supposed to do at a certain place
However, some symptoms may signify something else other than age related memory loss. Memory loss that significantly affects your ability to lead a normal life and sustain relationships should be something to worry about. This could be signaling dementia or a condition related to dementia.
Dementia comes with a gradual decline in intellectual capabilities that may include the loss of verbal skills, judgment and abstract thinking. Should this progress to levels such that you are unable to maintain relationships and lead a normal life, you should seek medical help.
Age related memory loss, as mentioned above, is reversible and an elderly person need not despair when they begin experiencing a decline in memory. With effort and persistence, you can rebuild your memory feel youthful again. Here are seven tips to start you out on this journey.
How To Boost Your Memory
Create a system that means that makes it easy for you to recall
As simplistic as this appears, it can go a long way in making your life manageable. For example, instead of placing your car keys randomly, pick a specific place in the house where you place them. This way, when looking for them you will not have to ransack the whole house. Creating a shopping list is also another example. Instead of walking past supermarket isles trying to recall what it is you need, you just need to remember to carry your list with you. Same applies for other things.
Older people learn at a slower rate, having distractions makes it even harder. If you are walking to the chemist to buy a certain drug and are thinking about a dozen other things, chances are that you will forget what sent you there.
To strengthen your learning ability, you have train your mind to focus on the task-at-hand. This will help you consolidate memories and be in the moment. It will be easier to get through the day when your mind is less cluttered and you will find that you are able to achieve more.
Before you write of brain foods as a passing fad, science has shown that certain foods can slow down age related memory loss.
- Fatty fish
25% of the brain is made up of omega fats. Omega fats are essential in memory formation and learning. One study showed that regular consumption of boiled or baked fish slows down grey matter loss that is associated with aging. Grey matter is responsible for cognitive processes, memory formation and emotions.
Curcumin found in turmeric has potent anti-inflammatory as well as anti oxidant properties. A 2012 study showed that curcumin helps in forming new brain cells in old age; this study was however conducted on mice.
Image source Pixabay
- Pumpkin seeds
Pumpkin seeds are rich in minerals such as copper, zinc, magnesium, and iron. These minerals support nerve function and boost memory formation.
Blueberries are loaded with anthocyanins which have powerful anti oxidant properties. A 2011 study showed that blueberry supplementation helps in boosting memory in old age.
- Dark chocolate
Dark chocolate is rich in flavanoids that are anti oxidants. Dark chocolate has been shown to enhance memory.
Other brain foods that may help in boosting memory include nuts, green tea, coffee, eggs, broccoli, and soy products.
Engage in physical exercises
Elderly people’s memories are often affected by a diminished supply of oxygen to the brain. Regular aerobic exercises will improve circulation to the brain and boost memory power. However, you must get the approval of your physician before engaging in vigorous exercises. Your heart needs to be in good enough shape to accommodate increased oxygen demands as you exercise.
Image source Pixabay
Jog your memory frequently
The mind, like any muscle, needs to be frequently exercised in order to grow strong. Keep learning new things even as you age. Learning does not necessarily mean enrolling for a formal class. Simple activities such as playing a crossword puzzle or chess does a lot to improve memory. Reading a newspaper and trying to recall the facts is another simple activity that can boost memory.
Image source Pixabay
More challenging tasks include learning a new instrument or studying a subject that is unfamiliar to you but draws your interest. Other intense projects such as landscaping or quilting can provide more stimulation that will boost your memory.
Get adequate sleep
Sleeping helps in consolidating experiences into memories. Try to get between 8-10 hours of sleep each day. Occasional naps during the day are helpful. Sleeping adequately will also prevent you from getting over tired and stressed out. Stress contributes to memory loss in old age.
Engage in social activities
Interacting with other people on a regular basis will give you opportunities to learn new things and keep you stimulated. Social interaction also helps in reducing stress which may contribute to memory loss in old age.