Researchers at Stanford University (USA) found that memory loss can be improved by 30 to 50 per cent simply by doing mental exercises. The brain is like a muscle – if you don’t give it regular workouts, its functions will decline. Suggestions include:

  • Keep up your social life and engage in plenty of stimulating conversations.
  • Read newspapers, magazines and books.
  • Play ‘thinking’ games like Scrabble, cards and Trivial Pursuit.
  • Take a course on a subject that interests you.
  • Cultivate a new hobby.
  • Learn a language.
  • Do crossword puzzles and word games.
  • Play games that challenge the intellect and memory, such as chess.
  • Watch ‘question and answer’ game shows on television and play along with the contestants.
  • Hobbies such as woodwork can improve the brain’s spatial awareness.
  • Keep stress under control with meditation and regular relaxation, since an excess of stress hormones like cortisol can be harmful to neurones.

Boost your memory
Good recall is a learned skill. There are ways to improve a failing memory no matter what your age. Suggestions include:

  • Make sure you’re paying attention to whatever it is you want to remember. For example, if you’re busy thinking about something else, you mightn’t notice where you’re putting the house keys.
  • Use memory triggers, like association or visualisation techniques. For example, link a name you want to remember with a mental picture.
  • Practice using your memory. For example, try to remember short lists, such as a grocery list. Use memory triggers to help you ‘jump’ from one item to the next. One type of memory trigger is a walking route that you know well. Mentally attach each item on your list to a landmark along the route. For example, imagine putting the bread at the letterbox, the apples at the next-door neighbour’s house and the meat at the bus stop. To remember the list, you just have to ‘walk’ the route in your mind.

Conditions and events that can impair brain function
Getting older doesn’t necessarily mean that the mind stops working as well as it once did.

However, some of the conditions and events more common to older age that affect brain function include:

  • Atherosclerosis
  • Dehydration
  • Dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease
  • Depression
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Heart disease
  • Medications – prescribed medicines should be regularly reviewed so that unwanted side effects are avoided, and drugs should be discontinued if they are no longer required
  • Poor nutrition, vitamin deficiency
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Stroke.

Many conditions can be managed
Many of the conditions that may affect brain function can be managed effectively. The following factors have all proved to be important:

  • Lifestyle and diet changes
  • Monitoring tests for hypertension, cholesterol and diabetes
  • Medications.

Things to remember

  • Researchers believe that many of the supposed age-related changes which affect the mind, such as memory loss, are actually lifestyle related.
  • Keeping an active body is crucial if you want an active mind.
  • Some of the conditions and events more common to old age that may hinder brain function include dementia, Parkinson’s disease and atherosclerosis.

Six simple steps to keep your mind sharp at any age, go to:

Martin Pollins
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