As you grow older, you may notice that you start forgetting things more frequently. It could be something as simple as forgetting where you put your wallet or where you were supposed to go. Memory lapses like these are quite common with ageing but can be frustrating. Thankfully, making some lifestyle changes and following a few tips can help manage memory loss in older adults. Here are thirteen useful tips to help improve cognitive health and manage memory problems in older adults.
Risk factors for developing memory problems
As we age, it is common to experience a natural decline in our memory and cognitive functions. However, certain factors can increase the risk of early cognitive health decline.
- Exposure to air pollution
- Poor diet
- Lack of exercise
- Lack of sleep
Suppose there is a history of memory loss problems like Alzheimer’s and Dementia in your family, or you have had a stroke or heart disease, or you are experiencing memory problems at an earlier age than your peers. In that case, it is crucial to take the necessary precautions to avoid risk factors that may aggravate the condition.
Tips for older adults to deal with memory loss & other cognitive problems
Typically, cognitive decline starts after 50 or 60 years of age, and you may begin noticing symptoms of memory problems, such as forgetting events or dates, misplacing keys, not remembering a word while in a conversation, etc.
Though cognitive decline with ageing is natural and cannot be stopped, it can definitely be slowed down and managed better. The following are certain tips and lifestyle changes that go a long way in managing memory loss in older adults.
1. Learn a new skill (keyboard, language, swimming, etc.)
Many studies have linked learning a new skill to lower the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s. When we learn a new skill, our brain creates new connections and neurons and strengthens existing neural pathways. This process enhances our brain’s neuroplasticity, which not only improves memory but also other cognitive functions such as attention, listening, comprehension, and decision-making.
2. Follow a daily routine
Multitasking, when young, is very common, and we all have done it with or without some difficulty. We might also have handled unexpected tasks or unanticipated situations multiple times.
However, as we age, multitasking or off-the-routine tasks may cause stress and may often lead to aggression, agitation, or restlessness in older adults.
To avoid this, it’s important to establish a daily routine that includes set times for activities like bathing, eating, exercising, reading, and sleeping. Following a routine helps older adults remember tasks and gives them a sense of calm and peace of mind.
3. Plan tasks and make to-do-lists
Poor memory and forgetfulness are the most common memory problems older people experience. However, planning ahead can prevent forgetting important tasks such as paying bills or attending events.
If you start your day by making a to-do list and planning your tasks, you can avoid unpleasant surprises and enjoy a more organized day. This is one of the most helpful tips for older adults and caretakers because it makes the day flow without many problems.
4. Keep essential things like keys, wallet, phone, etc., in the same dedicated place each day
Forgetting or misplacing your car keys or wallet can be very frustrating, especially when you are in a hurry to go out. To avoid such unpleasant situations, you can make it a habit to keep these essential items in their designated places. Doing so can save a lot of time, and most importantly, it will help you stay stress-free.
5. Play brain-stimulating games like crossword puzzles, scramble, Sudoku, etc.
Playing brain games such as Sudoku and Scramble can have a positive impact on brain function. A study conducted in 2019 found that older adults who solved more Sudoku puzzles had better brain function. This improvement was seen in cognitive skills such as attention, memory, and reasoning. Furthermore, the study showed that performing short-term memory tests after solving puzzles resulted in brain function levels equivalent to those of individuals eight years younger.
6. Volunteer in a nearby community (at a school or the local park)
According to research, individuals who volunteer several times a week have higher levels of executive function, which allows them to control and coordinate other cognitive skills of the brain. The study also noted that volunteering more frequently can help slow down cognitive decline, including memory loss in older individuals.
In addition to the cognitive benefits, volunteering for the local community can provide a sense of purpose and fulfilment, leading to an overall improvement in well-being. Volunteering can also enhance social connections and reduce stress levels, further contributing to better brain health.
7. Spend time with family and friends
Having reliable friends and family enhances both your physical and cognitive health. According to a study in 2021, older adults with larger social networks tend to have better cognitive skills. Similarly, another study found that having a friend or family member to have long conversations with can help improve cognitive resilience.
Positive relationships and good friendships can also help promote a sense of belonging and knowing that there are loved ones whom you can rely on during a crisis. A study in 2020 found that positive relationships can boost self-esteem, while another study in 2018 found that hugs from loved ones can help reduce negative emotions. Both positively impact one’s overall well-being, including brain health.
8. Consult your doctor if you feel depressed for weeks at a time
Depression is linked to a higher risk of cognitive decline and dementia, and hence, failure to diagnose late-life depression in older adults can lead to cognitive impairment.
Studies have reported a loss of a smaller hippocampal volume with recurrent depressive episodes, leading to cognitive decline. Therefore, older adults feeling depressed for several weeks must seek a doctor’s advice immediately to stop aggravating memory loss and other cognitive problems.
9. Eat a healthy diet
A healthy diet is essential for maintaining cognitive health, particularly as we age. It should comprise whole grains, protein, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and healthy fats.
The MIND diet is particularly recommended for older adults with memory problems. It is a combination of the Mediterranean and DASH diets and is rich in certain vitamins, carotenoids, and flavonoids.
The Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of metabolic syndrome, and the DASH diet lowers the risk of hypertension and heart disease. Both benefit brain functions.
Thus, eating a brain-healthy diet is crucial as we age to slow down cognitive decline.
10. Regular exercise
Exercise is one of the few interventions that can prevent cognitive decline and memory loss in older adults. Its cardio-protective effect stimulates brain activities and improves cognitive functions as well.
Studies have found that closed-skill activities improved selective attention and visuospatial perception, while open-skilled activities resulted in better inhibition, visual tracking, and cognitive flexibility.
Open skilled activities are those where one needs to constantly adapt to the changing conditions, such as catching a baseball or driving a car. In contrast, closed skills activities require high precision and accuracy, such as making a free throw in basketball or hitting a golf ball.
Nevertheless, any exercise will improve cognitive skills more than doing none.
11. Get enough sleep (7-8 hours at night)
Longer sleep duration at night is associated with better cognition in older adults. On the other hand, shorter sleep duration or sleep deprivation has a significant damaging effect on most cognitive domains, including working memory, attention, processing speed, reasoning, and short-term memory. Since good sleep quality is linked to better cognitive skills, treating sleep problems, including lack of long-duration sleep, sleep apnea, insomnia, and sleep deprivation, is crucial.
12. Keep your blood pressure in control
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is an important risk factor for brain atrophy, a key aspect of neurodegenerative disease. Hence, it is essential to keep blood pressure in check by following healthy lifestyle choices like the DASH diet.
13. Avoid or limit alcohol
According to studies, heavy or binge drinking can cause damage to the brain, regardless of age. However, when it comes to cognitive functions and memory problems, alcohol consumption can be more harmful to older adults than to younger ones due to the effects of ageing and the drug’s pharmacological effects.
Interestingly, many studies have previously suggested that low-moderate alcohol consumption can lead to improved cognitive abilities. However, a recent study in 2018 has claimed that this is not true and that even lower doses of alcohol can have negative effects on brain health.
Though cognitive decline is common with ageing, older adults can take steps to slow this process and manage memory problems with some effort.
This may involve lifestyle changes, such as maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, getting sufficient sleep, and abstaining from alcohol. Further, learning a new skill, playing brain-stimulating games like Sudoku, helping the local community, and planning the day’s tasks help slow the cognitive decline.
Additionally, consider seeking medical advice to determine if any underlying health issues contribute to your memory loss. Early intervention is key to preventing further deterioration of your memory and maintaining a good quality of life.