Memories are a vital part of who we are. And memory loss due to aging might feel like losing pieces of ourselves.
Fortunately, only 27% of 75-84 year-olds and 20% of 65-74 year-olds experience some memory loss. Nevertheless, as you age, so does your brain. While you may not experience memory loss, you’ll likely have normal memory issues related to aging.
But what does this mean? How does it affect your everyday life? And how can you make sure you’re getting enough mental stimulation to prevent memory loss in old age?
In this article, we’ll explore the types of normal memory problems, why our memory declines with age, and how to improve your memory.
What is Normal When it Comes to Brain Aging and Memory?
Memory function can be broadly divided into four sections:
- Episodic memory – memory of events or “episodes in your life. For instance, your first day of school, a friend’s birthday party, or the dinner date you had last week.
- Semantic memory – memory of facts and information. For example, knowing the name of your school, where your friend had the birthday party, and how many inches are in a foot.
- Procedural memory – long-term memory of how to perform certain actions. For instance, knowing how to tie your shoes, ride a bike, or drive.
- Working memory – our ability to retain information for short periods of time. For example, meeting someone new and remembering their name during the conversation or memorizing a phone number and typing it into your phone without re-checking.
We all experience forgetfulness, regardless of age. But what is normal when it comes to brain aging and memory?
- Research on memory and cognitive aging showed that episodic memory declines from middle age. Chances are you don’t remember your first day of school anymore, but you do remember the dinner date you had last week.
- You really do get wiser with age. Semantic memory improves over time with studies showing that older adults generally perform better than younger participants.
- Procedural memory is unaffected by normal aging. It’s true that once you learn how to ride a bike or tie your shoes, you never forget it.
- Recent research has shown that working memory declines with age. But let’s be honest, memorizing a nine number digit for two minutes is hard at any age.
There’s a lot of variation in our cognitive abilities. Some decline and some improve with age. The question you might be asking yourself is “why?”.
Why Does Our Memory Decline with Age?
The human brain is a complex, ever-changing organ.
The good news? You can create new neural pathways and regrow your brain until the day you die.
But why does our memory decline with age?
Well, the answer is not simple because there are several factors that come into play when it comes to why our memory fades as we grow older:
- The brain reaches its maximum size during early adulthood — then begins to decline at a rate of around 5% every decade after 40.
- The dopamine and serotonin levels decline by 20-50% with age. Both of these neurotransmitters play a vital role in memory formation and retention.
- Blood flow to the brain decreases with age causing memory and other issues.
Now that we understand why memory declines with age, let’s dive into the best ways to combat that decline.
7 Ways to Improve Memory and Prevent Memory Loss in Old Age
#1 Use Your Senses
It was once believed that different brain areas process sensory information separately, with no connection between them. New neuro research refutes that and even suggests using multiple senses to improve memory.
You’ve likely already relied on this phenomenon, but here are some examples of how you can consciously apply this concept to everyday life:
- When trying to remember someone’s name, picture their face or what they look like
- If you’re trying to remember a grocery list, try writing it down and then reciting it out loud as soon as possible
- To help remember dates and birthdays, write them on a calendar with highlighters or post-it notes so that they stand out
#2 Focus Your Attention
Forgetfulness is the first sign that you have too much on your mind. If you have too many things going on, then there isn’t enough energy left over to focus on your prioritized items.
Your brain can only process one thing at a time. Instead of trying to do too many things at once, allocate your mental effort and focus to a single matter at hand.
Bonus tip: If you feel like you’re losing focus with age check out these 7 secrets for better mental focus and steadfast concentration.
#3 Play Brain Games
From chess to brain training apps, there are many ways you can play and exercise your brain at the same time. Nearly two out of three older adults enjoy cognitively stimulating games, according to AARP.
Research is still inconclusive about the effectiveness of brain training and games. But if you’d like to have fun while maybe improving cognitive abilities, check out some of the best brain games.
#4 Read More
Reading is a powerful way to keep your brain sharp as you age. Reading every day reduces the risk of developing dementia.
Life-long readers are better protected from cognitive decline — reading books can reduce memory decline by more than 30%.
Try to incorporate it into your nighttime routine and lull yourself to sleep with a great book.
#5 Enjoy Nature
It’s no secret that your environment can affect how you feel and act.
For instance, studies show that people who work in windowless offices report higher levels of stress than those with windows to look out on nature.
And whether it’s a stroll through the park or a hike up a mountain, experiencing nature is good for both body and mind. After one hour of spending time in nature, you can expect an improvement of 20% in your short-term memory and attention span.
However, walking in an urban setting doesn’t produce the same results. If you don’t live close to green areas, the study found that even looking at pictures of nature has the same effect.
#6 Try Acronyms, Abbreviations, and Mnemonics
Have you ever tried to remember something, but it just wouldn’t stick in your head? I know that sometimes I’ll think of a word or idea and then lose it minutes later. And that can be really frustrating.
Luckily, there are some tricks that can help with memory retention. Acronyms, abbreviations, and mnemonics are all fun and effective ways to help you retain information.
For instance, in elementary school we all learned to order math operations by memorizing “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally” (PEMDAS).
You can apply the same principles to other everyday things. For example, instead of trying to memorize a long number, you can group it into separate chunks.
#7 Have faith in yourself
Despite the aging myths that movies, TV shows, and commercials generate, aging is not a disease.
Research has already proven the detrimental impacts of negative age stereotypes of others on memory. And more importantly, the way you see yourself also affects your memory.
It turns out that memory’s shaped by your own aging stereotypes over time. A study recently found that those with more negative age stereotypes performed 30.2% worse on memory tests than those with more positive outlooks.
So, cut out extraneous noise and look within – it’s a great way to trust yourself and embrace a graceful aging process.
Boost Your Brainpower
You’ve already taken the first micro-step towards a better memory just by reading this article.
If you believe that your memory can improve despite aging and put our tips into practice, you’ll keep your mental acuity for longer.
Which of our seven ways resonates the most with you? Which ones will you tackle first?
P.S. If you’d like to know more about how to proactively stave off memory loss, here are 11 Alzheimer’s prevention tips.
To learn more about the aging brain, check out our comprehensive guide. Inside, you’ll find information on how to protect your brain health, exercises to keep your mind sharp, and tips for staying mentally active as you age.