Is there anything we can do to help delay memory loss?

Is there anything we can do to help delay memory loss?

Brain diagramEveryone seems to be wondering what we can do to keep our brains sharp. As baby boomers get closer to retirement, they are not only concerned about whether they will be financially secure, but also whether they will be physically fit and cognitively sound to enjoy their journey of aging.

Dr. Fergus Craik, a Baycrest psychologist who is world renowned for ground breaking research on memory processing, tells us that certain types of cognitive processes hold up better than others in later life. In other words, different types of memory change in different ways as we age.

“It is NOT all bad news,” says Dr. Craik. There are some types of memory that hold up well as we age. These include:

  • Primary memory – the ability to take in a little amount of information and put it out again in the exact same way. For example, hearing a phone number, repeating it and remembering it long enough to be able to dial it.
  • Long-term memory – this includes facts about the world. This holds up well provided that we access the information from time to time.
  • Procedural memory – this is our ability to remember how to perform an action such as playing piano or playing a sport.

“Unfortunately some types of memory tend to decline as we age,” explains Dr. Craik. “Usually this is part of normal, healthy aging.” These include:

  • Working memory – this keeps things in our mind and allows us to use this information when we need it.
  • Episodic memory – trying to remember the details of an event that’s happened to us in the past.
  • Perspective memory – remembering to do something in the future such as remembering to phone a friend or pick up something at the grocery store.
  • Memory for details – remembering names, in particular, seems to decline.

What can we do?

The question on everyone’s mind is what can we do to delay memory loss or improve our memory?

Some of Dr. Craik’s suggestions included:

  • Try to find associations which will help you remember. “Make it stick” by making it meaningful. For example, if you want to remember your license plate, make a sentence using the letters and numbers on the plate.
  • Turn off any distractions when you are concentrating on something. For example, turn off the television or music if you are reading.
  • Blocking out interfering sound will help, as it has been shown that older minds get easily distracted.
  • Adjust your environment. Use cues such as lists or put items in the same place so they can easily be found.
  • Stay intellectually and socially active as this has shown to help keep our cognitive abilities going.
  • Exercise and a healthy diet can also help improve memory and maintain cognition. “What’s good for the heart is also good for the brain” seems to be true.

According to Dr. Craik, “How well the brain holds up is dependent on a combination of many factors. These include the environment, genetics, underlying diseases, and others. All we can do is try our best by using some of the suggestions mentioned above. It’s important to remember that a certain amount of forgetfulness is a part of normal, healthy aging.”

Dr. Craik was our featured scientist along with host, Dr. Marla Shapiro, health and medical contributor for Canada AM, at our Speaker Series on February 26, 2009. The topic for the evening’s discussion was our aging memory and what we can do to help delay memory loss. The evening was attended by over 400 people.

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