Do you ever catch yourself stopped in mid-sentence — the point you were trying to make suddenly snatched away by a mysterious brain glitch? Ever looked down at the empty glass in your hand, wondering, did I or did I not just take my pills? How about exiting the mall and not having a clue where you parked the car?
If so, don’t panic. Absent-mindedness and a general slowdown in mental processing often occur naturally with the aging process. Your mature nervous system (like an older-model computer) may take a little longer to retrieve information than it did when you were younger.
But here’s the good news: if you think you’re having a few too many “senior moments,” there are some things you can do to bring your mental modem back up to speed.
Educating Your Memory
The National Institutes of Health recently conducted a study on “How Training Improves Cognitive Abilities of Older Adults.” The five-week session, titled ACTIVE, taught the participants strategies for remembering word lists and sequences of items, text material and details of stories. Results showed significant improvement in cognitive abilities that continued two years after the training.
“The findings were powerful and very specific,” says Richard M. Suzman, Ph.D., and Associate Director for the Behavioral and Social Research Program at the National Institute on Aging (NIA). “I think we can build on these results to see how training ultimately might be applied to tasks that older people do everyday, such as using medication or handling finances.”
Memory is the ability to remember something that has been learned or experienced, and refers to the brain’s ability to store information.
Without it, learning would be impossible. If your brain couldn’t recall the past, you would be unable to learn anything new. All your experiences would be lost as soon as they ended, and each new situation would be unfamiliar.
Memory is divided into three types:
Sensory memory holds information for only a second or two, giving your eyes, ears, and other senses time to process the information. This information quickly disappears unless you make an effort to retain it.
Short-term memory contains what you actively think about at any particular time. It can hold a fact for as long as you think about it, like repeating a phone number until you dial it.
Long-term memory stores facts, ideas and experiences after you stop thinking about them, and includes a huge amount of information, some of which lasts a lifetime.
Experts believe that by the end of our lives, our long-term memories have stored hundreds of times the information contained in a comprehensive encyclopedia.
Calisthenics for Your Brain
- You can train your mind to help you remember what you don’t want to forget. See if these strategies help you:
- Wear a bracelet or rubber band on days you have to do a certain task. Use your senses.
- When you meet someone new, “see” his or her name by writing it down on a piece of paper. “Hear” that you just finished a task by saying it out loud, “I have turned off the oven.”
- Name your parking area something that identifies its location; for example: “Treeville” if you parked by a tree, or “Leftzone Three,” if you parked on the left side of the lot, third row.
- In the mall, take a mental note of what you saw when you walked in (luggage? Men’s cologne?)
- If numbers stump you, associate them with something you’ll remember. For example, if your locker combination is 45-29-03, say, “I’m 45 years old, but I tell people I’m 29, and I have three children.”
- Link people’s names with things you already know. Heather is as gentle as a feather, and Dustin is also the name of movie star Dustin Hoffman.
- Develop routines and put things back where they belong. It is much easier to find things that are in their proper place.
- Memorize Scripture; it keeps your mind sharp.