It is normal to experience changes in cognition with age, but these changes can vary widely from person to person. While some seniors show little to no signs of memory loss, others become forgetful even to the point of impairment or dementia. Many factors, including genetics and overall health, can affect an aging adult’s memory.
Fortunately, there is strong evidence that people can improve their memory even late in life and delay the onset of cognitive decline. The following are 8 things that you can do to help an aging loved one improve their memory.
- Encourage Exercise
There is a strong correlation between physical exercise and brain health, and inactivity can lead to a significantly increased risk of developing memory problems. One way that exercise helps is by increasing the size of the hippocampus, a region of the brain that tends to shrink with age. One study found that moderate aerobic exercise, like taking a brisk walk, can increase the size of the hippocampus by up to 2% in a year.
In addition, exercise can have a positive effect on cognitive health by increasing oxygen levels in the brain and by reducing stress, which is another known contributor to memory decline. If you’re checking out memory care communities, make sure to choose one that incorporates an exercise program.
2. Provide A Brain-Healthy Diet
Diet also plays a key role in cognitive health. Doctors recommend “brain foods,” like walnuts, blueberries, and fish, that contain anti-oxidants and Omega-3 fatty acids. In addition, avoiding added sugar and highly processed foods can help to improve memory. Portion control is also a factor, as excess weight is a risk factor for dementia.
A diet centred on whole grains, lean protein, healthy fats, and a variety of fruits and vegetables can help boost memory at any age, and the Mediterranean diet, in particular, seems to prevent or delay the onset of mild cognitive impairment, a frequent precursor to Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. This may because the diet is associated with lower rates of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, both of which are risk factors for developing dementia.
3. Provide Opportunities For Socializing
The latest research shows that socializing can have a profoundly positive effect on memory and cognition. People who have a larger social network are less likely to develop dementia than those who have limited contact with others. That’s because socializing requires listening and formulating responses, which stimulates the brain.
Unfortunately, many people tend to become more isolated as they get older, often due to mobility issues or living arrangements that make socializing difficult. If you’re not able to make frequent visits or provide the kind of socialization your loved one needs, you may want to look into an adult day health program or senior centre that provides transportation to participants.
4. Treat Health Problems That Can Affect Cognition
Diabetes and heart disease are the two main health conditions that are associated with memory loss. Both conditions tend to affect the circulatory system, causing damage to blood vessels are arteries. These problems can lead to a reduced supply of blood to the brain along with an increased risk of stroke. By controlling blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol, people stand a better chance of maintaining their level of cognitive functioning and even improving their memory as they age.
It’s important to talk with your loved one’s doctor and make sure these conditions are treated appropriately with medication and other therapies. A doctor can provide further advice on nutrition and lifestyle changes that can reduce the risk of dementia.
5. Provide A Variety Of Mentally Stimulating Activities
Many activities can stimulate the brain and improve memory, like doing crossword puzzles, reading, and learning a new skill. The most important thing, say the experts, is variety. Doing anything new, whether it’s driving a different route to get to the store or learning a new language, keeps the brain flexible. The following are some of the tops recommended activities for boosting cognitive function:
Arts and crafts
Hidden picture games
Chess and checkers
Listening to music and singing
Visiting new places
Meeting new people
Engaging in meaningful conversations
6. Engage Multiple Senses
To help a loved one remember something, it’s very beneficial to engage as many different senses as possible. For example, reading instructions, copying them into a notebook, and hearing them read aloud can help the person recall the content. Similarly, holding and squeezing your loved one’s hands and making eye contact while you’re talking can help the person to remember the conversation because multiple senses are engaged.
7. Make Sure Your Loved One Gets Enough Sleep
One consequence of a lack of sleep can be poor short-term memory. Thus, helping a loved one get a better night’s sleep can often help boost their memory. Some practical steps include limiting fluids in the evening, avoiding screens before bedtime, and avoiding alcohol, which can often disturb sleep.
You may also be able to help a loved one sleep better by encouraging them to practice relaxation techniques at bedtime. If your loved one snores or seems to have trouble breathing at night, consider getting an evaluation for sleep apnea.
8. Use Organizational Tools To Support Memory
When a loved one’s memory starts to decline, you can offer support by providing organizational tools, like a calendar, a list, or a map of where things are located in a room. Writing a list and then repeating each item can help the person remember the things they intend to do. Home organization tools can also help with memory by reducing clutter and making things easier to see and find.
If you notice a loved one’s memory loss progress despite these interventions, it’s important to see a doctor and get a diagnosis. There are many causes of memory loss, and some can be easily treated.