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Keeping Your Memory in Shape


"Excuse me, I'm having a senior moment," you may have joked when you couldn't think of a word, someone's name or the place you went on vacation last year. But you'll probably admit that even though you joke about it, you don't like it when it happens.

Memory loss is one of the things about getting older that people dread. Many people think it's unavoidable. The truth is that while it's common to take longer to remember certain things, real, profound memory loss isn't a normal part of aging. By the time you're 65, for example, you have only a 5 percent chance of developing Alzheimer's disease.

Curable causes of memory loss

There are a lot of conditions and situations that cause temporary, reversible memory loss. They include

  • High fever
  • Dehydration (just one reason why it's important to drink plenty of fluid this summer)
  • Poor nutrition and vitamin deficiencies
  • Serious reactions to medications
  • Problems with your thyroid gland
  • Minor head injury
  • Emotional problems-sadness, loneliness, boredom

    Four areas where you can take action to preserve memory

    The positive thing about your memory is that lifestyle seems to have a big effect for many people. Studies of identical twins have shown that when you compare sets of twins in which one got Alzheimer's disease and the other didn't, the one who didn't was more likely to have a healthy diet, not smoke, not drink too much alcohol and get regular exercise. So there are lots of things you can do to reduce your risk of memory loss.

    Research on aging and memory has shown that there are four areas that can affect and improve memory:

  • Mental activity- Many researchers believe in the "use it or lose it" theory, because mental stimulation seems to help keep brains functioning well. Things that make you think, focus and concentrate are worth taking part in, such as crossword puzzles, taking classes, writing, doing brain teasers, etc.

  • Stress reduction-Stress is a part of life for most of us. Studies show that the more stress you feel, the more your memory is affected. The key is how we handle it. It's helpful to have realistic expectations about things, first of all. If a salesperson is rude to you, instead of letting it make you angry and upset, you'll do better if you can shrug it off and realize that a salesperson's reaction has nothing to do with you. It's also helpful to take moments throughout the day to relax. One example-close your eyes, take a deep breath, and imagine your body gradually relaxing from your head down to your feet. Make a conscious effort to slow down, maintain a healthy perspective, enjoy the company of friends, etc.

  • Physical activity-Studies show that active people have a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease. In one study, people who spent 40 minutes walking three times per week had better attention spans, memory function and complex problem-solving ability than people who did only simple stretching and toning exercise.

  • Healthy diet-There's a large body of research that suggests that a diet that's healthy for your heart is also healthy for your brain. This means eating healthy fats-olive oil instead of butter, for example; fresh fruits and vegetables; limiting red meat and replacing it with more fish and lean chicken; eating whole grains rather than white bread, white rice, cakes, etc.

    Check out our gift idea in the "Make Life Easier" section of this e-magazine. It features the "Senior Moments Game," which is funny in a way, but also provides activity in two of the areas listed above-mental activity and stress reduction.

    UCLA's Center on Aging; G. Small, The Memory Bible; The National Institute on Aging
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