We often joke that we start to forget things as we get older, but that doesn’t make it inevitable. Following these tips could help maintain your memory function.
Keep your Brain Active
Engaging in complex mental activities throughout your lifespan has been shown to reduce the likelihood of dementia and cognitive decline and may even help prevent the hippocampus area of your brain, which is involved in memory function, from shrinking as you get older. Try to incorporate mentally stimulating activities such as learning new skills, doing crosswords or Sudoku puzzles or playing Scrabble with friends into your lifestyle on a regular basis.
Stress can contribute to memory loss in two different ways.
- During acute (or short-term) stress, the stress hormone cortisol temporarily inhibits short-term memory function. Once the stressful situation ceases, the memory improves again.
- During chronic (or persistent) stress, substances secreted in the body can cause permanent death to nerve cells in the hippocampus area of the brain, affecting memory.
If you’re in a stressful situation and finding it difficult to think clearly, try taking time out from what’s bothering you. A gentle stroll, a heart-to-heart chat with a friend, or some quiet time listening to music could help you get your thoughts straight again.
To give the brain the best chance of functioning well, try including these healthy choices in your diet:
- Complex carbohydrates: Eat whole grains and legumes to supply your brain with energy and help keep your blood sugar on an even keel.
- Fruit and vegetables: A high intake of fresh fruit and vegetables is associated with better memory performance among individuals older than 65 years.
- Fish: Choose oily fish such as sardines, salmon or herring, which are rich in the omega-3 essential fatty acids that are vital for healthy brain function.
- Nuts and seeds: Top up your intake of healthy fats with regular servings of nuts and seeds, which contain vitamins and minerals as well as essential fatty acids.
- Eggs: Eggs are a rich source of a nutrient called choline, which is needed for brain processes including memory.
- Water: Dehydration has been implicated in memory defects, so try to drink around two litres of clean, filtered water every day.
Consider nutritional supplements
Consuming high levels of the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish may have a protective effect on cognitive function, especially as you get older. If you’re vegetarian, consider taking flaxseed oil as an alternative source of omega-3s.
Certain B-group vitamins are involved in the production of brain chemicals involved in memory, and even mild deficiencies can impact on your thinking and memory. Of the B-group vitamins, vitamin B12 and folic acid may be particularly important for older people. Australian research has shown that over the long-term, taking 400 mcg folic acid and 100 mcg vitamin B12 per day may help to prevent the cognitive declines and memory problems that are often associated with ageing.
Vitamin D deficiency appears to increase the risk of cognitive impairment in older women and has also been linked to a number of other health problems.
Zinc is present in the hippocampus in large amounts and is needed for the production of some of the brain chemicals involved in memory.
Ginkgo provides many benefits for healthy brain function, having been shown to help improve memory and enhance cognition and the processing of new information. These effects have been attributed to its powerful antioxidant activity and ability to promote healthy blood flow to the brain.
Bacopa may improve memory
Also known as brahmi, bacopa is a potent antioxidant and has traditionally been used as a brain and memory tonic in Ayurvedic medicine. Studies show that it aids the retention of new information, improves learning and memory, and significantly reduces anxiety. Taking bacopa has been shown to improve several aspects of cognitive function and memory in healthy people aged 55-70 years with age-related memory problems (but not dementia or psychiatric disorders).
In this placebo-controlled study, published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatryin 2006, more than half of the participants who took bacopa extract for 12 weeks experienced memory improvements of at least 21%. In contrast, none of the participants who took the placebo experienced this degree of memory improvement.