Memory loss makes everyday living difficult. People with serious memory problems may do things like repeat the same question many times or get lost in familiar places. This type of memory loss may result from conditions like a traumatic brain injury, blood clots or Alzheimer’s. Serious memory loss requires medical treatment.
For most of us, however, normal aging causes some forgetfulness. All of us, at any age, forget things when we’re distracted by a task or event. We may forget to lock the front door, a new friend’s phone number or where we put our glasses. Mild forgetfulness such as this doesn’t lead to wholesale memory loss. And there are steps to not just prevent mild forgetfulness but actually improve our memory.
What is memory?
Memory is the process of acquiring, storing, retaining and retrieving information. It helps make us who we are. In the ancient era B.E. (Before Everything – meaning radio, newspapers, TV, movies, the internet, and Google), memorization was a valuable skill. Stories, laws, history, not to mention skills like how to make fire, were passed down thanks to memory. Even today individuals don’t think in a vacuum. Our repertoire, our expertise, is built on remembering what we did before.
Ways to improve your memory
Although there is no single guaranteed, foolproof way to improve your memory, there are practical techniques that you can use. Try them and see which ones work best for you.
- Follow a routine. Be consistent. If you always lose your glasses, keys or other personal items at home, put them in the same place every time. This also goes for important digital information. Use specific folders for emails and documents for things like receipts, tax files and your latest novel.
- Write it down. Write down mission-critical information as you get it for all activities and tasks. This includes names, phone numbers, measurements and lists. If possible, use a pen and paper: the physical act of writing is much better at reinforcing memory than making notes on your phone.
- Sleep well. Sleep is crucial in consolidating your memories for later recall. Make it a priority to get enough sleep. Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep a day.
- Eat a healthy diet. A healthy diet is as good for your brain as it is for your heart. Eat fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Choose low-fat proteins like fish, beans and skinless poultry. Limit your alcohol and/or drug use because these can lead to confusion and memory loss.
- Exercise. For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes, or 2.5 hours, a week of moderate aerobic activity, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity, such as jogging, preferably spread throughout the week.
- Do yoga. Yoga is good for your body and may help your memory, too. A study of 25 adults 55 and over, who had mild cognitive impairment that could precede Alzheimer’s, showed improvement in visual-spatial memory, which helps people remember locations and navigate while driving.
- Manage chronic conditions. The better you take care of yourself, the better your memory is likely to be. Follow your doctor's recommendations for conditions such as depression, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity and hearing loss. Regularly review your medications with your doctor, too, as some. Medications can affect memory.
When to seek help for memory loss
Talk to your doctor If you're worried about memory loss, especially if it affects your ability to complete your usual daily activities or if you notice your memory getting worse. He or she will likely do a physical exam, as well as check your memory and problem-solving skills. You may also need other tests as well. Treatment depends on the cause of your memory loss.