So you’ve misplaced your phone — again. Is this everyday forgetfulness or an early sign of dementia? Most of us find that, as we get older, our minds aren’t as sharp as they once were. This is common and usually not a sign of a serious condition like dementia or Alzheimer’s disease that can lead to more severe memory loss. However, just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s unavoidable. Several strategies can help strengthen your memory and thinking abilities. These tips may help you experience fewer “senior moments” as well as reduce your risk of serious memory problems.
1. “Exercise” Your Brain
The more you use your brain, the stronger your mental abilities may get. Regularly playing board games, doing puzzles, or engaging in similar activities may help improve your memory.
What types of activities will force you to work out your noggin? Here are some ideas:
- Do you like wordplay? Try crossword puzzles in your local paper or play an online version at USA Today — or, for expert mode, download the New York Times Games app to try their daily crossword puzzle and other games such as Wordle.
- If you want to try other word games, try playing Scrabble or Boggle with a loved one, or play an online version like Words With Friends.
- More of a numbers person? Try sudoku or KenKen.
- Organize a game night with friends to play your favorite card game or a classic board game like Clue, Go, or chess.
- Get a group of loved ones together to play trivia at a local bar.
2. Find New Ways To Learn
When you pick up a new skill, you help form new connections in your brain and build your thinking abilities. Try taking a photography class, reading a book on a new subject you’re curious about, or using an app like Duolingo to learn a new language.
3. Stay Social
When you’re isolated from others, your risk of dementia increases by 50%. It’s okay if you’re not a social butterfly, but it’s good to have at least a couple of people in your life who you can talk to. If you’re looking to meet new friends, try volunteering, getting to know your neighbors, or finding a group of like-minded people to connect with through Meetup. Additionally, pets can help protect against loneliness!
4. Keep Yourself Healthy
Practicing healthy lifestyle habits won’t just help your physical health — it helps your brain, too. Brain-boosting habits include:
- Eating a balanced diet — Consume more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and fish to lower your chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions that may affect your memory.
- Staying physically active — Getting exercise can boost your mood, replenish your energy levels, increase blood flow in your brain, and reduce your risk of falls that could lead to a head injury.
- Getting high-quality sleep — Good rest helps your brain rest and recharge. Do your best to get at least 7 hours per night.
- Limiting how much you drink — If you drink heavily, you’re increasing your risk of experiencing long-term changes in your memory or cognitive abilities. The good news is that limiting your drinking can undo some of this damage.
- Quitting smoking — Cigarette smoke can damage cells in your brain and body, but quitting may help your brain stay healthy as you get older.
- Addressing health issues — Conditions like high cholesterol levels and depression can increase your risk of dementia. Work with your doctor to manage these conditions for optimal brain health.
5. Don’t Believe the Myths
Ironically enough, your memory is more likely to decline if you believe it will. Research has found that people who believe in negative stereotypes about memory and aging are 30% more likely to experience memory problems as they age. When you understand that you have some control over your memory, you can actually protect your brain’s abilities.
6. Talk to Your Doctor if You Have Worsening Memory Issues
In some cases, forgetfulness is a sign that something more serious is happening within your brain or your body. In this case, your healthcare team may be able to help.
You may want to schedule a doctor’s visit if your memory issues start to affect your daily life. For example, you may find yourself unable to manage bills or appointments on your own, realize that you frequently struggle to follow conversations around you, or have loved ones tell you they’re worried about your decision-making abilities. In these cases, it may be time for medical help that goes beyond lifestyle changes.
Sometimes, memory loss has a treatable cause, such as infection, that your doctor can help you resolve. In other cases, forgetfulness may be a sign of a condition like dementia. While these conditions aren’t always curable, your doctor may be able to recommend therapies that slow down symptoms, prevent more serious memory problems, and improve your quality of life.
Healthy Life, Healthy Brain
When it comes to brain health, it’s all about building up a lifestyle that keeps your mind active. Trying something on this list once or twice isn’t enough to drastically change your thinking abilities, but building up a routine that incorporates a few of these strategies can make a big difference in keeping your mind sharp well into the future.