MetroWest CARES — the Committee Addressing Resources for Seniors — is coordinated by the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest and brings together leaders from MetroWest agencies to promote independence and support vitality among older adults. Each month, a MetroWest CARES agency has an opportunity to address a critical eldercare issue. This month’s column on Memory and the upcoming Creative Maturity Expo is provided by JVS.
Do you find yourself forgetting a person’s name? Have you ever placed a phone call and forgotten whom you were calling? Have you had a “senior moment” or “brain freeze?” Are you wondering if this is the start of dementia or just something that happens as you get older? There is good news: All of us forget things sometimes, and it is normal. But all of us — young and old — can sharpen our capacity to remember names, places, phone numbers, lists, etc. The keys to slowing down brain aging are mental activity, physical fitness, stress reduction, and a healthy diet.
Research has shown that keeping active in both mind and body is the key to longevity. It is also the key to maintaining a sharp memory.
Memory is the ability to normally recall the facts and events of our lives. When someone experiences a loss of mental functions such as thinking, memory, and reasoning that is severe enough to interfere with a person’s daily functioning, that is defined as dementia. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease.
“One-third of memory loss is genetic. That means we have the potential to influence a large component of our brain’s aging,” says Gary Small, MD, author of The Memory Bible: An Innovative Strategy for Keeping Your Brain Young, and director of the Memory and Aging Research Center at the UCLA Psychiatric Institute. “The sooner we get started,” he points out, “the sooner we’re going to benefit from it.”
Some things you can do to improve memory include:
• Focus your attention. Forgetfulness may indicate that you have too much on your mind. Slow down and focus on the task at hand. Multitasking and not paying attention are some of the biggest causes of forgetfulness, especially in younger people.
• Reduce stress. Stress can endanger the areas of the brain involved with memory processing and impair memory.
• Choose to snooze. Sleep is important because fatigue can affect memory and concentration in any age group.
• Structure your environment. Use calendars and clocks, lists and notes, and be sure to write down daily activities on a planner or use an electronic organizer. Store easy-to-lose items in the same place after each use. Park your car in the same general area at the office each day.
• Memory booster games. There are many downloadable apps for the iPhone, Droid, and other electronic devices that challenge the brain and help improve memory. A few apps include: Memory Trainer, Ambi Science Brain Power, Math Workout, Mind Games, and Brain Lab. An Israeli company, CogniFit, sells software that provides games and mental exercises specifically designed to bolster cognitive skills. Other software and Web-based offerings can be found through Lumosity and Posit Science.
• Try mnemonic devices (memory tricks).
Remember, no matter how “normal” memory lapses may be, it doesn’t mean they are any less frustrating. The best way to avoid them and keep your brain fit, experts agree, is to keep using it.
Families and caregivers needing answers to broader eldercare questions and help with community resources can contact Elderlink (Elderlinkmetrowest.org) — a portal to all MetroWest services for older adults and their families — at 973-765-9050 or firstname.lastname@example.org.