Take steps to help sharpen your memory as you age
DEAR MAYO CLINIC: Is it true that there are things I can do
to prevent memory loss as I age? I'm 48 and feel like my memory is very poor
compared to just a few years ago.
ANSWER: Commonly, memory becomes less efficient as we age.
Although there's no surefire way to prevent memory loss, you can take steps that
may help. If memory loss begins to interfere with your day-to-day activities,
though, or if changes in memory concern you, talk to your doctor.
As people get older, the number of cells, or neurons, in the brain decreases.
That decrease can make it harder to learn new things or remember familiar words
or names. You may have difficulty recalling names of acquaintances, for example,
or trouble finding your reading glasses or car keys. Some people become
concerned that those memory lapses could signal the beginning of Alzheimer's
disease or dementia. That's rarely the case.
A number of lifestyle changes can often help sharpen your memory. First, stay
active physically and mentally. Physical activity increases blood flow to your
body, including your brain, and that can help your memory. So, take a brisk
walk, or go biking, swimming or skiing. Do whatever you enjoy to stay active on
a regular basis.
Physical activity helps keep your body in shape, and intellectual activity
can do likewise for your brain. Reading, writing, attending movies or plays,
playing games or discussing current events can be mentally engaging activities.
Again, find the activities you like, and stick with them.
Second, stay or get involved in a social network. As you get older, avoid the
tendency some people have to withdraw from others. Interact with your family and
friends, civic organizations, a faith or other community. Being with others can
help lower your risk of depression and reduce stress. Both may have a role in
Third, eat a healthy diet. In general, a diet that keeps your heart healthy
can do the same for your brain. Such a diet typically includes whole grains;
lean meat, poultry and fish; and at least five servings of fruits and vegetables
a day. Also, drink plenty of water and limit the amount of alcohol you drink, as
dehydration and too much alcohol can both lead to confusion and possibly memory
Fourth, stay organized. You can structure daily activities to decrease the
likelihood that you will forget what you need to do or where something is
located. Making lists, putting items away where they belong and getting rid of
unneeded clutter can help. Finally, as much as possible, focus on one thing at a
time. Multitasking may feel efficient but can become stressful and distracting.
Neither is good for your memory.
If you try these lifestyle changes and memory still seems to be a significant
problem, or if you're worried about recent memory changes, make an appointment
to see your primary care doctor. The doctor can discuss your symptoms with you
and review your family medical history and medications or dietary supplements
you're taking. In some cases, memory loss can be a side effect of certain drugs.
Your doctor may also talk with you about your stress level or any major life
changes you've experienced.
Together, you and your doctor can sort through the issues that may be
contributing to memory loss and decide on the best course of action. -
Ronald C. Petersen, M.D., Ph.D., Alzheimer's Disease Research Center,
Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.
( Medical Edge from Mayo Clinic is an educational resource and doesn't
replace regular medical care. E-mail a question to
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Buffalo, N.Y., 14207. For more information, visit www.mayoclinic.org.)