Simple ways to maintain memory as you age

Adults confront various age-related side effects as they transition from middle age to their golden years. Skin may begin to wrinkle and hair may turn gray, but those are just the visible side effects of aging. Many additional effects are unseen, but those changes can have a profound effect on adults’ quality of life.

According to the Mayo Clinic, various parts of the body are affected by aging. For example, the cardiovascular system changes as people grow older. Blood vessels and arteries stiffen as adults age, forcing the heart to work harder to pump blood through them.

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Though many changes are linked to aging, other changes commonly associated with aging, such as a decline in memory, reasoning and other thinking skills, are not natural. The Alzheimer’s Association® notes that dementia is not a normal part of aging. There are many different types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, and these are the result of damage to brain cells that affect a person’s ability to communicate. That damage is not inevitable, even if it’s commonly associated with aging.

The Harvard Medical School notes that fleeting memory problems experienced with aging often reflect normal changes in the structure and function of the brain. But it’s important that those changes not be mistaken for dementia, and it’s equally important that adults recognize there are many ways they can protect and sharpen their minds as they age.

• Continue learning. HMS notes that a higher level of education is associated with improved mental functioning in old age. The reasons for that are unknown, but experts theorize that advanced education compels people to remain mentally active, which in turn helps them maintain a strong memory. Even aging men and women who are still working in challenging fields can benefit from pursuing a new hobby or learning a new skill.

• Use the tools at your disposal. It may seem counterintuitive to suggest that organizational tools like planners, maps and lists can help people maintain their memories. However, HMS notes that expending mental energy on finding car keys or trying to remember what to buy at the store makes it harder to learn new and important things.

• Let all your senses play a role. HMS reports that the more senses a person uses to learn something, the more his or her brain is involved in retaining a memory. HMS cites one study in which adults were shown a series of emotionally neutral images that were each presented along with a smell. Participants were not asked to recall what they saw, but were later shown a set of images and asked to indicate which they had previously seen. The participants had excellent recall for the odor-paired images, and researchers believe that’s because additional parts of the brain were activated when participants were asked to use more than one sense.

Memory loss is not an inevitable side effect of aging, especially for adults who take steps to maintain their memories as they age.