Improve your memory with these simple tips
We’ve all heard the expression “use it or lose it.” Well, the same can be said for our memory and our cognitive function. As we get older, we can choose to both keep our minds and bodies fit and active and prolong our independence, or we can choose to sit around and watch TV as our minds steadily wither away along with our memory recall. The choice is yours. With a few cognitive exercises, a simple change to our diet, and moderate fitness, we can help our memory improve greatly.
First let’s look at some of the ways we probably already know how to keep our minds active. Crossword puzzles are a favorite activity. Crosswords give us a clue and we have to either know it automatically or figure it out by adding letters. It’s a good long term memory exercise for word recall. It’s also a good language processing exercise because if you don’t know the word, little clues are revealed allowing your brain to process that information until enough is present to get the word. Another exercise is Wheel of Fortune on TV. Don’t just sit and yell at the players if they get the word wrong, but play along and try to beat the players. Word searches are another great visual processing exercise. They help with visual scanning and processing information quickly. Think how quickly the brain processes information while scanning those letters. Your mind is constantly saying “that’s not it, that’s not it, oh that’s it!” And then, like magic, the word you are looking for becomes crystal clear among all the other jumbled letters. Many people like Jeopardy but that show is so difficult it is not really helpful if you can’t ever get the questions right.
Ok, I have a quick task for you to do. Name 10 animals. Was it difficult? The average middle age adult should be able to name 26 animals in one minute. Now tell me what category red, blue, and green would go. Was that easier or harder? Most people say the first one was harder. If I give you a category and ask you to tell me as many as you can in 60 seconds, it is more difficult than if I said the individual items and asked what category it was in. This is one of my favorite tasks. So try to name as many fruits, vegetables, Presidents, foreign countries, and states as you can. There are many more categories you can use, think of some on your own and practice naming items in those categories. Remember the game Simon where the lights come on in a certain order and you have to repeat the sequence? That is an excellent short term memory game. I have people all the time tell me “oh I read.” Reading doesn’t do your memory any good unless someone asks you some questions about what you read.
Now let’s discuss some techniques to improve our memories. One of my favorites is visualization. This is where you associate a visual cue to something you have to remember. It’s similar to where were you when we landed on the moon. Do you remember? If so it’s because you associated a visual cue with the experience. So if someone tells you about a doctor’s appointment, when you have to remember it later, try to think of where you were when you first learned of the appointment. The next is chaining. Chaining is when you learn one step of a task, and learn the second, then third and so on. Don’t try to take in all the information at once, just one step at a time. And finally, my favorite technique to remember something….write it down! Lists are a wonderful thing! I have magnets all over my refrigerator holding little scraps of paper with lists reminding me to do things. Sometimes they are just ideas I don’t want to forget. Sometimes they are appointments. But I know that if I write down a reminder, I increase my odds of not forgetting it.
Ok, now let’s move on to another way we can improve memory…Food! Yes our diet can be changed a little to make a big impact on our memories. The single most important food for memory is the blueberry. Blueberries have tons and tons of antioxidants that have been shown clearly to promote better cognitive function. So add some blueberries to that cereal, or have a blueberry muffin. Nuts and seeds are second on my list, but not too much or they can promote fat. About an ounce a day is all you need and you will get lots of vitamin E. Finally, avocados make the list as they promote blood flow which can increase cognitive function. They are tasty and easy to find in the grocery store.
Ok finally we get to exercise. Now this is for the older folks but a simple walk can do wonders in the older years. Any activity where you are active consistently will increase blood flow and that is what we are after. Stroll down to the mailbox. Walk around the yard. Play with the dog. There have been recent studies about retirees who have contracted the “sit down” disease. It’s a dreaded new term where retirees become less active and sit down in front of the TV all day and all night. Get up and move for at least 30 minutes. If you can’t do 30, then there is your motivation!
So, as you can see, there are many fun and engaging ways to promote cognitive memory function. Just keep using your mind. Learn new things, engage in conversation, volunteer, read and keep it working.