March 21, 2023

By giving your mind a workout, you may be able to boost your memory power. These five memory training tips can help

You’ve met her before. You can even remember when and where — that time at the crafts fair at Centennial Park. But her name … Carol, Lynn, Tara? It eludes you, taunting you, just out of reach.

Has this happened to you? Do you figure it’s just part of getting older? Aging can indeed make it harder to remember some things, but so can being overly busy or distracted. By focusing on your potential and continuing to exercise your mind, you may be able to boost your memory power. Get started with these memory-training strategies:

1. Flex your brain.

When researchers put adult mice and rats in a more stimulating environment, their brain structure changes in ways that enhance cell communication. This research suggests that similar stimulation may also help humans learn. So if you are good at crossword puzzles, for example, keep doing them — but add an additional mental challenge such as learning a new language or computer skill.

2. Minimize anxiety.

Studies show that anxiety hampers your memory, and stressful experiences, such as grief or moving, may limit your ability to store and recall information. Our response to stress releases hormones known as glucocorticoids, which, in excess, can lead to damaged brain cells. As you age, it’s best to have a plan for life’s stressors. While stress can’t always be avoided, having some sense of control over it makes stress less of a burden to your body and mind.

3. Jog your memory.

Try a variety of memory-jogging strategies and see what works best for you. Consider “to do” lists, Post-it notes, alarms, calendars, pictures and leaving items, such as keys, in the same place every day.

4. Don’t forget about heart health.

Cardiovascular health is important to your memory because it allows the heart to effectively pump blood with nutrients and oxygen into the brain. Congestive heart failure and long-term untreated high blood pressure have been shown to hurt memory. To fuel your body and brain, eat healthy foods. Talk with your primary care provider about the right diet and exercise plan for you. Consider joining a fitness program for motivation and socialization, both of which stimulate your brain.

5. Mind your medication.

Anything that depresses the central nervous system — alcohol, benzodiazepines, any kind of tranquilizer, any kind of sleeping pill — will depress the memory system. When you begin any new drug or change dosage, keep an eye on your reactions. Even drugs not known to disrupt memory may affect yours. Drug interactions may also contribute to memory problems.

If you are concerned that you or someone you love has a memory problem, share these memory training tips with them and talk to your healthcare provider. He or she may be able to diagnose the problem, or refer you to a qualified specialist in neurology.

Need advanced help?

The Vanderbilt Cognitive Disorders Program treats problems with memory, reasoning and orientation. If you or a family member is experiencing these symptoms, it might be due to a cognitive disorder. Vanderbilt experts can identify the problem and create a treatment plan.

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