As you age, the fear of losing the bits and pieces of who you are rears its’ ugly head. Learning how to protect your memory into oldest age is critical for your mental and emotional health – as well as your quality of life and that of your loved ones.
Memory loss is considered a “normal” part of aging but that isn’t entirely true.
Scientists still don’t know the exact cause of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia but there are clear risk factors you need to keep in mind. Some – such as age and genetics – cannot be controlled but the ones listed below are within your power to influence.
Risk Factors for Dementia
- Smoking and other tobacco use damages tissues all over your body and your brain is not immune to the effects.
- Alcohol use in greater consumption than recommended (1 drink per day for women, 2 drinks a day for men) has been shown to contribute to problems learning and retaining new information as well as gaps in short and long-term memory.
- Obesity increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes, as well as numerous neurological and physiological conditions.
- Traumatic brain injury has been connected to a greater risk of dementia later in life. Wearing protective gear during physical activities (cycling, rollerblading, etc) and wearing a seatbelt in motor vehicles decreases your chance of sustaining damage to your brain.
- Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) restricts blood and oxygen flow to the brain. There’s also a link between LDL (bad) cholesterol and this process.
- Diabetes increases your risk of both atherosclerosis and stroke – which in turn raises your risk of vascular dementia.
Along with a healthy diet and lifestyle choices, there are many “memory enhancement” techniques you can implement in your daily life to protect your memory now and well into the future. One of them could be the job you do!
Long-Term Study Links Jobs and Memory
A study published in Neurology from researchers with the University of Edinburgh found a connection between retaining memory skills and job complexity. In fact, the more complex your job, the better chance you have of keeping your memory and general cognitive skills sharp for many decades.
The research centered around participants born in Scotland in 1936. At age 11, the then-children were tested to measure IQ. At age 70, they were tested again.
It was discovered that subjects who held jobs high in complex interaction with people (such as doctors and law enforcement), things (such as engineers and machinists), and data (such as architects, musicians, and computer analysts) ranked higher in memory retention, speed of processing information, and overall cognition.
There is also a strong link to intellect early in life to what job you might choose, which would then influence cognitive skills throughout your life into later years.
Lower intellect or a simplistic job may lead to faster erosion of the neuropathways the brain uses to signal the body, retain information, and control higher-level thinking.
In other words, the more you think and learn, the stronger those neural connections will remain. In effect, you’re “working out” your brain.
Protecting Your Memory Depends on Many Factors
The more you do right now to preserve cognition, the better. Starting as young as possible is wonderful but it is never too late to exercise your brain. Here are a few ideas proven to engage your mind and get the neurons firing.
- Social interaction with friends and family keeps your mind from becoming stagnant and isolated. Conversation, laughter, and even debate keep your mind “involved” in life.
- Get plenty of sleep so your brain has time to process ideas and information.
- Exercise regularly for improved thinking and better blood flow to the entire central nervous system.
- Continue to learn – how to cook, a new language, or a hobby you’ve never tried – which helps your brain stay alert and constantly stretching.
- Explore new places, music, and ideas to give your brain fresh input.
- Get some sunshine to keep your vitamin D levels up.
- Play brain games that include puzzles and riddles.
- Write things down with pen and paper or say them aloud to improve memory.
As with everything else, what you eat matters when you want to protect your memory. Giving your brain the right fuel is crucial to keeping it healthy and strong well into your elder years.
Brain-Boosting Foods To Include In Your Diet
- Nuts and Seeds are abundant in vitamin E and omega-3s, shown to help prevent age-related cognitive decline.
- Celery is rich in luteolin, shown to lower brain inflammation.
- Blueberries have been proven in several studies to protect the brain from free radicals, which lead to oxidative stress, inflammation, and neurodegenerative disease.
- Avocados contain healthy fat that improves overall blood flow to the heart and brain.
- Fatty fish is high in omega-3s, one of your brain’s favorite foods. 40% of your brain is comprised of fatty acids. Salmon, mackerel, tuna, and trout are just a few excellent choices. Other good sources are walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and flax seeds.
- Broccoli is rich in vitamin K and choline. It has shown incredible results in boosting overall cognitive function in the brains of unborn children.
- Beans are a great source of magnesium. Your brain needs plenty of magnesium to improve signal transmission to the rest of your body. It also improves blood flow.
- Dark Chocolate that is 70% cacao or higher contains caffeine and antioxidants that release powerful endorphins to improve concentration and mood.
- Curcumin is the primary compound in turmeric and known best for giving curried foods their flavor and color. Several studies have found that curcumin prevents the buildup of plaque (beta amyloids) found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.
- Healthy Fats such as olive oil, organic butter, and coconut oil are perfect fuel for your brain – which represents 25% of the cholesterol in your body. The right fats improve your HDL (good) cholesterol and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. A recent study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that elderly participants with the highest levels of cholesterol had the best memory.
Don’t neglect water! Dehydration (which you might not recognize) makes it difficult for your brain to focus on the tasks at hand.
Positive thinking as well as keeping your life organized, centered, and busy will increase your chances of keeping your brain strong. Make protecting your memory part of your health regimen now to benefit your overall quality of life for years to come.
It’s never too late…start right now.