When it comes to ageing and memory loss, it’s inevitable. But the good news is, there’s a lot that can be done to prevent and sometimes reverse the effects of memory loss. That’s why we spoke to brain function expert Shannon Chin from Fit Minds Australia to find out what some of the steps are that older adults can take to stay mentally sharp with age.
“Slow down,” Chin says. Yes, it’s as simple as doing only one thing at a time. She asks if you’re doing 10 things at once — like getting the dinner on while hanging out the washing, how can you expect your brain to keep up? “We’ve got to train ourselves to stay focused, and also make a point of doing one thing at a time,” Chin says, adding a lack of concentration can impact the memory.
Chin also recommends incorporating a walk into your daily routine, because “exercise helps keep [the] brain working well”. In fact, one study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease earlier this year found exercise boosts blood flow into two key regions of the brain associated with memory.
Sleep is also very important when it comes to boosting brainpower, and research shows that a good night’s sleep — seven to nine hours of sleep per night — can improve memory, while poor sleep patterns increase your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
“When we don’t have enough sleep, our brain can’t concentrate,” Chin says, adding: “Other than sleep, [it’s also important] to eat a diet that’s good for the brain.”
And when it comes to foods that have proven time and again to be associated with improved cognition, those found in the Mediterranean diet – high in fruits, vegetables, legumes, fish and cereals but low in dairy, meat, sugar and saturated fat – are the most effective. A study published in the Frontiers in Nutrition Journal found the Mediterranean diet was associated with slower rates of cognitive decline, reduced conversion to Alzheimer’s and improvements in cognitive function.
Another way to improve memory as you age is to use the association technique. Chin says this can be a helpful tool when it comes to remembering people’s names, adding: “If I meet someone and [they] say ‘my name is Tiffany’, I go ‘oh, Tiffany, lovely name, Tiffany the luxury jewellery brand’.”
Lastly, Chin’s final tip is to do brain-training programs regularly to keep the brain fit, active and sharp. For example, crossword puzzles can do wonders for maintaining the language function of your brain. Chin also recommends incorporating sudoku, trivia and logic puzzles into your weekly routine. She also recommends having a go at mental maths — Chin recommends something as simple as adding up your purchases in your head as you shop.
Chin says it’s important to note that memory loss is not automatically a sign of dementia. She says there are several reasons why you might occasionally forget things from time to time, saying apart from age, it could simply just come down to a lack of sleep, poor diet or being busy.
And while everyone misplaces their keys every now and then, Chin says you should only be concerned when you or a loved one starts asking the same questions over and over again, has trouble remembering a route they take on a regular basis or has trouble thinking of a word they want to use, or struggles to make an easy decision.
If you suspect your loved one may be suffering from memory loss, don’t ignore it. Chin says if you notice your loved one seems more forgetful or confused, it’s important to talk about it.
“While it can be a difficult conversation to have with your older relatives, it’s worth having — and something simple like a brain fitness self-assessment is a much less confronting step than visiting a doctor or psychologist,” she says. “Catching it early gives people an increased chance of maintaining their level of mental fitness, arresting the decline and even improving their brain function.”
IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.