Alzheimer’s disease. Among baby boomers, this is the most dreaded disease imaginable. In fact, the very word causes many aging people to shudder in apprehension.
Also, Alzheimer’s is not the only predator lurking in the aging recess of our minds. Amnesia, dementia, mild cognitive impairment, and just plain old forgetfulness are all lying in wait to take their toll…and a terrible toll it is.
Lapses in name recall and word-finding, forgetting to pay bills and make appointments, misplacing objects…all add up to turning a formerly rich, satisfying existence into a maddening, frustrating hell on earth.
And it’s not Just Older People
That’s right. With today’s 24/7 connected electronic society, many perpetually sleep-deprived, continually multitasking younger people are beginning to experience symptoms of cognitive impairment.
With more-and-more to do in less-and-less time, our minds at times give a collective scream of “ENOUGH” and just begin to shut down.
Faced with this grim reality, many people are starting to wonder if there is anything they can do to fight back against this insidious problem.
But can they? Is there anything we can do to protect and even improve our precious mental facilities?
The Answer is a Resounding “YES”!
Regardless of your age, background or current mental state, here are some steps that you can begin to take immediately that will prove beneficial in the battle to protect and maintain your memory. Keep reading.
Step One: Drink Alcohol in moderation. The key word here is moderation.
Excessive drinking can wreak havoc on your mind. However, numerous studies have shown that drinking alcohol in moderation (for men, no more than two drinks per day; for women, no more than one) can improve your cognitive function and memory.
The reason for this? Alcohol contains antioxidants, which benefit brain health. Some studies have shown that moderate drinkers outscore both non-drinkers and heavy drinkers in specific tests of cognition and memory.
Even better news: Alcohol may be able to lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
In one French study, researchers found that two glasses of wine consumed daily reduced the risk of Alzheimer’s by an astonishing 45%! Once again, another reminder to just not overdo it.
Step Two: Deal with depression. Depression is the most common form of mental illness.
But that doesn’t mean that it is not a big deal. Think about this: Your brain has a finite number of resources to assign. If depression, sadness, and anxiety are your dominating thoughts, your brain’s resources are going to them, not your memory.
Depression also destroys the ability to concentrate, and keep you holding onto negative thoughts that sabotage your efforts at school or work, because you have limited ability to focus.
Depression also signals your adrenal glands to flood your body with cortisol, which is known as “the stress hormone.” High levels of cortisol keep us in a “fight-or-flight” mindset, which is not conducive to high-level cognitive performance.
If all of this weren’t enough, depression has been correlated with a decrease in the size of the hippocampus gland. This connection is important because this gland is the key to our short-term memory.
However, there is hope. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) can be learned from books or a qualified therapist. Also, some medications can deal with this killer. If you feel you may need help, by all means, get it.
Step Three: Visualization and association. This is far easier than it may sound. The key here is to make things easier to remember by associating them with vivid imagery and bring the creative part of your brain into the equation. This association makes remembering easier as well as fun.
For example, when you are making a shopping list for bananas, apples, carrots, and milk, think of someone slipping on a banana peel when giving an apple to the teacher.
The rabbit in the cage just kept eating the carrot, and the cow looked up from being milked and seemed to smile. Get the point? The more ridiculous, the better.
By doing this type of thinking, you are engaging the right side of the brain that rules creativity and images, as well as the logical left side. Two are better than one.
Step Four: Mindfulness. Again, another simple idea. The goal here is to keep an idea in your mind for at least 8 seconds. Research has proven that it takes at least that much time to convert short-term memory into a long-term one that you can recall.
However, for many folks, this is harder than it seems. The important thing is to slow down and focus deliberately. If something is vital for you to remember, don’t approach it on auto-pilot like we so often do every day like tossing things aside without remembering where we left them. Remove the distractions from your mind, and focus.
When you meet someone for the first time, repeat their name back to them when you are introduced and don’t forget to use it at least one more time, especially when you are leaving.
Even with everyday, mundane tasks, engage your brain. When you make a shopping list, remind yourself where you left it.
This will reduce the times that you are in the store, and only then remember where you left the list (hint: not in your pocket).
Step Six: Break things down into smaller units. Never forget that our brains have only a limited ability to store large amounts of items at one time.
For example, remembering seven digits in a sequence is about average for most people; our brains are just not built to handle more.
An excellent way to remember lengthy pieces of information is to break them down into smaller units.
This allows us to turn two small memories into one large one, and boosts our storage capacity. Here are a few examples: let’s say that a phone number is (800-380-5339)
The 800 is the most common area code, the 380 resembles the police .38 special revolver, and 5339 is the year the Korean War ended (53) and the year WW2 began (39).
When remembering a group of people’s names, associate them with each other based on the first letters of their name, or group them by where you met them.
These are, of course, merely suggestions. Naturally, you will make your own.
But don’t neglect these ideas, for the simple reason that they work!
Step Seven: Location. Another trick to help your memory is to associate things or people with the place where and when you last saw them. A perfect example of this is landmark navigation.
Simply by seeing an object or nearby location, you can remember where to go next by associating the next step in the direction with the site where the turn is made.
Yoga, meditation, and Chi Kung work for many, but for others just hanging out with friends or watching some entertaining video will work.
But do take breaks.
Step Nine: A good night’s sleep. This is often overlooked, yet it is so important.
Your brain gathers memories and input during waking hours and cements them when you are sleeping.
To function at your peak, make getting a good night’s sleep a top priority.
Step Ten: Nutrition. We are always reminded that we are what we eat. This is usually mentioned in the context of physical health. But it is every bit as important when considering our memories.
Also, minimize trans fats, simple carbohydrates and don’t become obese. Following these simple guidelines will make a world of difference in your memory.
Step Eleven: Nootropics. Nootropics are the term for “smart pills.”
There are a wide variety of nootropics to choose from: the “racetam family (piracetam, aniracetam, oxiracetam, etc.), Bacopa, Ginkgo Biloba, Huperzine-A, Vinpocetine, Acetyl-L-Carnitine and much more, beyond the scope of this article.
Research them, start small, and see which ones work best for you.
Step Twelve: Get off the couch! In his book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, Dr. John Ratey proves that aerobic exercise physically remodels our brains for peak performance.
He leaves no stone unturned. The importance of exercise plays a huge role in everything from reducing stress and anxiety to improving attention deficit, battling addiction and growing brain cells. The bottom line? Get moving!
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