It has been observed that seniors are fearful of losing their memory as they age. Whether they will remember family members and their names or whether they will remember the task they had stepped out for, are some questions which can intensify their fears of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, as memory loss puts a question on the very identity of the individual.
However, it is not necessary that everyone with dementia would eventually lose his/her memory. Even though, memory loss is associated with old age, scientists have discovered memory loss can be prevented or delayed with the right combination of physical and mental activity.
Why does memory loss happen?
Memory loss occurs when the neural connections between brain cells are weakened. The neural connections or synapses facilitate transfer and storage of information. These neural connections between brain cells determine the brain’s ability to store, retrieve and transmit information. Neuroscientists have proved that by middle age the brain loses on an average 1% of its brain cells every year which eventually causes memory loss. Loss of memory affects daily activities such as remembering names of people, things, appointments, etc.
Another theory associated with memory loss is that with increasing age, it gets more difficult to access the information in the brain. Memory loss can also be associated with lifestyle changes which occur when one ages. Lack of daily activity or regular work can cause the brain to not support the mental data stored in it and makes it further difficult to access information.
Is it possible to delay or prevent memory loss?
As per a Neuroplasticity, the brain continually adjusts and reorganizes and can even form new neural connections. However, scientists have discovered that the brain not only creates new connections between neurons, but can actually grow new brain cells that transmit information.
The concept of cognitive reserve explains why some people can better tolerate age related brain changes and maintain function. Cognitive reserve is the brain’s excess capacity. It is the abundance of connections between the brain cells that keep the brain and memory functioning well, even as some neural connections weaken with age. People who engage in a more active lifestyle and leisure activities can improve certain areas of their mental functioning, potentially delaying or preventing memory loss.
How can memory loss be prevented?
Involving oneself in everyday activities can help in improving memory. Physical and mental activity, especially in old age can aggravate cognitive decline. Mental activities help in stimulating the neural connections and in delaying and preventing memory loss. The following activities can play an important role in protecting the brain from mental decline.
Reading provides active mental engagement as making predictions about the story’s plot and recalling details from what was read earlier can keep the brain stimulated and has a positive impact on one’s memory.
Playing board games
Board games are avenues for critical thinking and at the same time provide a means for social interactions.
Learning new hobbies and musical instruments
These activities require physical as well as mental discipline. Learning any skill ensures that the brain is constantly challenged and remains active.
Solving word and number puzzles
Mental stimulation provided by solving puzzles on a regular basis can help in reducing cognitive decline.
Eat a brain boosting diet
A diet based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats (such as olive oil, nuts, fish) and lean protein not only provide health benefits but also help improve memory. The following can help increase brainpower and reduce risk of dementia:
Omega-3s: Sources of omega-3 such as fish, walnuts, ground flaxseed oil, winter squash, spinach, broccoli, soybeans boosts are beneficial for brain health.
Fruits and Vegetables: Produce is packed with antioxidants that protect the brain cells from damage. It is beneficial to add green leafy vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, romaine lettuce and fruits such as bananas, apricots, mangoes to the diet of the seniors to help prevent memory loss.
Green Tea: It contains polyphenols, powerful antioxidants that protect against free radicals that damage brain cells. Regular consumption of green tea may enhance memory and mental alertness.
It is also important to understand the importance of a healthy lifestyle to support brain health. Regular aerobic exercise increases blood flow and brings more oxygen to the brain which cognition.
Practicing memory exercises/ memory training
As per a study by American Psychological Association on memory changes in older adults, called Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE), by Marsiske and other psychologists Karlene Ball, George Rebok, Sherry Willis and non-psychologists, and with funding from the National Institute on Aging and the National Institute of Nursing Research, it was found that short mental workouts improved performance and was sustained even five years later.
In the study, approximately 2,800 volunteers were assigned to one of three training conditions. The trained participants received instruction in one of three different kinds of thinking skills: memorizing lists, reasoning [looking for patterns in strings of numbers or letters] and visual concentration and a condition where no training occurred.
All trained participants received a baseline of ten hours of instruction. Half of the trained participants received an extra eight hours of "booster" training.
Five years later, compared to untrained controls, the participants in each training group still showed a significant performance advantage on learned thinking skills. Furthermore, participants receiving booster training showed even more significant benefit in the areas of reasoning and visual concentration. In addition, there was evidence that training "transferred" to real world skills.
- Participants in all three groups reported fewer limitations in performing tasks of daily living than the participants in the no training group.
- Participants in the reasoning-trained group showed the most improvement.
- Participants who received eighteen hours of training (booster training group) were compared with those who received the basic ten hours of training, blind observers found that booster participants were significantly quicker at speeded everyday activities, including accurately reading instructions on medicine bottles, finding items in a pantry, or reacting to road signs on a computer.
Mnemonics (memory devices), routines, visualization and learning something new can boost memory. However, it is important that memory skills training is combined with cognitive restructuring which implies that age related changes should be accepted and actively compensated for.
A strong memory depends on the health and vitality of the brain. Mental activities and enjoying a supportive social environment can help the seniors stay sharp and is important for their well-being.