Memory Loss and Age: How to Increase Cognitive Skills

Misplacing your keys and slowing mental responses are a normal part of the aging process. The encouraging news is there are things you can do to improve cognitive skills. But first, let’s start with a summary of how the brain processes information.

What is the memory-brain connection?

Memory is classified by short-term vs. long-term and by type of information (i.e. the 50 state capitols vs. last year’s Thanksgiving dinner). The brain undergoes three stages to process memory formation and maintenance:
  1. Acquisition. This is the degree in which you actively focus on information. This degree determines its residence in the bran, or if it goes through one ear and out the other.
  2. Consolidation. Information that you’ve focused on intently is encoded as new brain information (envision inputing information into a computer). This encoding more likely happens with information that’s stimulating and interesting.
  3. Retrieval. Your brain retrieves information in the same manner it stores info. Thus, the more you retrieve that information, the easier it is for the brain to retrieve it.
So why do I forget?
  1. Portions of the brain, in particular those parts responsible for storage, become vulnerable to age-related deterioration.
  2. You lose neurons with age. This affects brain chemicals called neurotransmitters and their receptors.
  3. Reduced blood flow to the brain. Additionally, nutrients that flow to the brain are processed less efficiently.
What can I do?
  1. Exercise delivers more oxygen to the brain. It reduces disorders that lead to memory loss like diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
  2. Eating healthy, which includes fruits and vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats, is key. Antioxidants found in these nutrients keep your brain cells from rusting. Additionally, B vitamins protect neurons and help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. And last but not least, avoiding saturated fat and trans fat reduce cholesterol—which reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke.
  3. Manage stress levels to help improve concentration
  4. Get your rest. Sleep impacts memory consolidation and improves concentration.
  5. Don’t smoke. Cigarettes increase your risk for cardiovascular disease and constrict arteries that deliver oxygen to the brain.
  6. Play games that involve strategy like chess, bridge or Scrabble.
  7. Read books, newspapers and magazine articles that are challenging.
  8. Actively find new things to learn.
  9. Take a course in an unfamiliar subject matter or take on a project that requires design and strategy.
Additional Resources
AARP Games
Tips and Techniques for Memory Enhancement