Memory is a tricky thing. Everyone has days where they can’t remember where they put their keys. If you’re in your golden years, those days might be a source of concern, but don’t panic. Learn how aging affects memory, and you’ll realize that it’s more normal than you might think.
How Aging Affects Memory
Have you ever heard of the Rashomon Effect? Named after the popular Akira Kurosawa film, it refers to an instance where everyone who was involved in a particular event describes it in a contradictory way. Even though they were all present for the exact same thing, the people involved may disagree with each other about what they saw and heard.
The Rashomon effect is proof that memory is more complicated than many of us realize. We tend to think of our memories as video cameras, recording everything we see and do for later reference. In reality, our memories are affected by lots of internal and external things, including emotions and sensory input. Age is another thing that can affect how your memory captures and uses information.
How Does Memory Change as You Age?
It is an undeniable fact that aging affects the body. There are three specific changes that can have a negative impact on your ability to remember things:
- Some people can experience decreased blood flow to the brain as they age.
- Proteins that protect brain cells, and the hormones that promote the growth of new cells, sometimes deteriorate with age.
- The function of the hippocampus can also decline with age, making it harder for the brain to recall memories.
Because of these factors, occasional lapses of short-term memory can become more common as you age. In other words, those days where you can’t find your reading glasses probably aren’t anything to be overly concerned about. Occasional slips of short-term memory are just a part of getting older.
It’s also important to remember that even with those other changes, your brain never loses its ability to create new neural pathways, which is how memories are formed. Because of this, there’s actually a lot that you can do to maintain the memory skills you have, and even improve them with time.
How Can I Improve My Memory?
When it comes to memory skills, you need to use them if you don’t want to lose them. Sometimes seniors assume that there’s nothing they can do to improve their memories and stop trying. Unfortunately, that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Brains learn and improve processes by creating and reinforcing neural pathways. This happens when the brain encounters novel information or challenges. In order to keep your memory fresh, keep it active:
- Train your brain every day with games, puzzles, and new ideas. You can try the crossword puzzle in the newspaper, or take on a bigger project like learning to play a musical instrument. Try to learn something new, or do something challenging, every day.
- Stay physically active. Exercise improves blood flow to the brain and also improves your overall health, which can help your memory. Doctors recommend that seniors get at least 150 minutes of exercise every week.
- Make social connections. Spending time with other people is a great way to teach your brain new information, and it can also help you avoid mental issues that have a negative effect on memory, like anxiety and depression. If your social life is lacking, try finding some new activities to enjoy.
- Your physical and mental health can have a huge effect on your memory. Work with your doctor to manage chronic conditions and embrace a healthier lifestyle.
Now that you know how aging affects memory, you hopefully realize that an occasional lapse is nothing to worry about. If your memory issues get to the point that they’re interfering with your daily life, consult a doctor. Otherwise, pick up that sudoku puzzle and call a friend to keep your memory sharp.
Are you planning to retire in Greenville, South Carolina? Be sure to check out The Gables on Pelham, a continuing care retirement community that welcomes seniors from all walks of life. We offer flexible and personalized care, including assisted living, memory care, skilled nursing, and rehabilitation. You’ll love our cozy accommodations, fun-filled events calendar, and welcoming community atmosphere. To learn more, please schedule a tour or give us a call at 864-713-1377.