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Senior Citizen's Guide to South Jersey

Maintaining Memory

Has this ever happened to you? You run into an acquaintance you’ve talked to many times, but suddenly you can’t recall his or her name. You’ve just left your house, you’re in a hurry, and suddenly you’re uncertain you locked the door. The truth is, given today’s complex and hectic lifestyles, momentary lapses in memory are perfectly normal – more so as we age. However, there are certain things we can all do to stay at the top of our mental “game.”

Exercising your brain

Most memory problems stem from either an inability to retain new information or to access existing memories. As memory is much like muscle strength, the more you exercise your brain, the better you’ll be able to process and remember information. Here are some simple ways to give your brain a healthy workout:

Break your routines.For example, brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand to activate new neural connections.

Try doing usual routines in unusual ways,like trying to guess what you’re eating simply by taste.

Take a course in a subject you don’t know much about,learn a new game requiring strategic thinking, or cook some recipes from an unfamiliar cuisine.

Think about things from a different perspective. For instance, try examining a long-held belief from another point of view.

Play a video gamethat involves problem solving.

Simple steps for enhancing your memory

In addition to exercising your brain, there are some basic steps you can take to maintain or improve your ability to retain and retrieve memories:

Pay attention to information you want to retain.
Make associationswith something you’re already familiar with.

Know your learning style.Some people learn best by seeing or reading, others learn best through hearing, and others actually retain information better by working with their hands. By understanding your learning style, you can use it to retain information more effectively.

Involve as many senses as possible. Read out loud. Make a poem out of information you want to recall. Or make unusual visual associations with words or names you want to remember.

Organize information. Write important information down in address books, date books or on calendars so you’ll know where to find it. Put a calendar with important dates in a prominent place where you’ll see it every day.

Focus on understanding basic ideas rather than memorizing isolated details, and be able to explain it in your own words

Healthy Habits = A Healthy Memory
Lifestyle choices that can affect memory

Most of us tend to think that memory is something we have little control over. Those people we know who remain sharp into their nineties and beyond are often credited with simply having “good genes” or good luck. In fact, for most seniors, better brain health involves a large measure of “choice.” A person, who has rarely exercised, seldom challenged his or her mind, and made poor nutritional choices, is far more likely to develop memory loss than someone who maintains good health habits.

Here are just a few suggestions for keeping your brain sharp and your memory intact:

Stay physically fit. Regular exercise increases oxygen to the brain, reduces the risk of disorders that may lead to memory loss, and may actually enhance the effect of helpful brain chemicals that protect brain cells.

Maintain a healthy weight. Reducing caloric intake and staying physically active add to your overall health, the benefits of which also impact memory and brain health.

Manage stress. Stress not only makes it difficult to concentrate, but can actually lead to dangerous levels of cortisol, a hormone that can damage the brain.

Get enough sleep. Sleep is necessary for memory consolidation and prolonged lack of sleep can result in difficulties concentrating.

Engage in mental exercise. People who regularly try new things, challenge their minds, and actively interact with others stay more mentally alert and engaged than those who merely sit around and watch TV or do the same things every day.

Don’t smoke. Smoking heightens the risk of vascular disorders that can cause stroke and constrict arteries that deliver oxygen to the brain.

Limit alcohol use. Impaired memory may result after only one or two drinks. On the other hand, heavy drinking can have permanent, far-reaching effects on the brain, including persistent memory problems, mental confusion and psychosis.

While it is certainly true that the sooner you begin a more “healthy” lifestyle, the better – it is never too late to get started. Often, making even small changes, like walking every day, monitoring your blood sugar, or just being more diligent about taking your medications, can pave the way to sharper brain function and better memory.

Eat Your Way to Improved Memory
Certain foods can help or hinder memory

Knowing that memory may naturally decline a bit as we age, it is important to understand that managing your diet is one of the most effective ways to help reduce risks and maintain better brain health. With that in mind, here are three easy to follow suggestions:

1. Avoid foods high in salt, fat and sugar.Although these foods may lead to a short-term boost in energy, in the long run they can significantly alter body chemistry, often making you feel lethargic or disoriented. Research shows that individuals who consistently consume diets high in unhealthy nutrients may ultimately suffer deterioration of brain tissue and increased memory loss.

2. Consume foods rich in Vitamin Bsuch as poultry, tuna, salmon, navy beans and even sunflower seeds. Vitamin B is known for maintaining healthy brain function. Another way to boost Vitamin B intake is by taking Vitamin B supplements.

3. Maintain a diet rich in antioxidants.Certain foods contain micronutrients called antioxidants, which work to reverse the damaging effects of free radicals on brain cells. Fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants, particularly blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, strawberries, raspberries, plums, avocados, oranges, red grapes, cherries, red apples, kale, spinach, brussels sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, broccoli, beets, red bell peppers and onions.

Is It Just a “Senior Moment” or Something More Serious?
Recognizing the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease

While some degree of memory loss is common as people age, progressive memory loss can be a sign of a more serious medical issue, such as Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. How can we know what’s normal and what might be an early indication of Alzheimer’s? The warning signs of Alzheimer’s involve more than simple lapses in memory. They may include difficulties in communicating, thinking and reasoning. Eventually these problems may become severe enough to interfere with an individual’s work, social activities and family life. The Alzheimer’s Association has developed the following checklist to help people recognize the differences between normal age-related memory changes and possible warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

1: Memory loss
What’s normal: Forgetting names or appointments occasionally

What’s not: Forgetting recently learned information and being unable to recall it later

2: Difficulty performing familiar tasks
What’s normal: Occasionally forgetting why you came into a room or what you planned to say

What’s not: Being unable to remember the steps required for completing everyday tasks, like preparing a meal, placing a telephone call or playing a game

3. Problems with language
What’s normal: Sometimes having trouble finding the right word

What’s not: People with Alzheimer’s disease often forget what things are called and may substitute unusual words, making their speech or writing hard to understand. A toothbrush, for example, may be referred to as “that thing for my mouth”

4. Disorientation to time and place
What’s normal: Momentarily forgetting the day of the week or where you were going

What’s not: People with Alzheimer’s can become lost in their own neighborhood; they may forget where they are and how they got there, and not know how to return home

5. Poor or impaired judgment
What’s normal: Making a questionable or debatable decision from time to time

What’s not: Showing poor judgment that can be detrimental to health or well-being, like wearing clothing that’s inappropriate for the prevailing weather

6. Problems with abstract thinking
What’s normal: Finding it a challenge to balance one’s checkbook

What’s not: Having great difficulty performing complex mental tasks, or understanding simple relationships, like what numbers are for and how they should be used

7. Misplacing things
What’s normal: Occasionally misplacing keys or a wallet

What’s not: Putting things in unusual places, like ice cream in the breadbox or keys in the sugar bowl

8. Changes in mood or behavior
What’s normal: Occasionally feeling sad or moody

What’s not: Exhibiting rapid and inappropriate mood swings for no apparent reason

9. Changes in personality
What’s normal: People’s personalities may change somewhat with age

What’s not: Dramatic changes in personality that may include confusion, suspicion, fear or dependence on a family member

10. Loss of initiative
What’s normal: Sometimes feeling weary of work or social obligations

What’s not: A person with Alzheimer’s may become very passive, sitting in front of the TV for hours, sleeping more than usual or not wanting to do usual activities

Since there are no absolute “rules” about the lines between normal changes and warning signs, it’s extremely important to check with a doctor if a loved one’s personality or level of function seems to be deteriorating. Your physician has access to numerous tests that may determine whether the problem is just age- related or the onset of something more serious.

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