One of the not so great things about aging is that we are cut less slack by others and sometimes by ourselves. If you’ve forgotten something it’s not because you had a million things to do and it got lost in the shuffle, it’s because you’re old and old people are forgetful. First of all, that’s not true. Losing memory, isn’t a fact of life. It’s usually a sign of a serious illness like Alzheimer’s or dementia. Before anyone panics, forgetting where you put your keys isn’t Alzheimer’s. Forgetting what keys are is. Still, there are things we can do to stave off memory loss and the first one is diet.
The Mediterranean – Dash Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay or “Mind Diet” was developed jointly by researchers at Rush University in Chicago and Harvard’s School of Public Health in Boston. While the results are pretty limited at this point, they are encouraging. The diet emphasizes eating plenty of fish, whole grains, non-fried poultry, nuts, beans, leafy greens, strawberries, blueberries and a glass of red wine once a day. Foods to be avoided are not surprisingly desserts (especially pastry), butter, red meat, cheese, fast food and fried foods in general.
The other major favor we can do for our memories is to keep engaged in the world and never stop learning. Anytime you engage your brain in thought you’re stimulating the individual brain cells and their communication with each other. Learn something new, do a tricky crossword puzzle, read a book about a subject you’re unfamiliar with.
Also, try and do some original thinking for at least ten minutes a day. This doesn’t necessarily mean finding the cure for cancer (but if you can, go for it), it could be something as simple as thinking up another route home from work and if it would be faster. Without realizing it, we live so much of our lives by rote and that’s not good because it makes us intellectually lazy.
The last thing we can do to ensure our memories from backsliding is to use all our senses. The more senses you engage when trying to remember something the more involved your brain will be in remembering it. One study showed people a collection of neutral images and they were asked how well they remembered the images a few hours later. The next day they were shown different neutral images but each image had an odor associated with it. The test subjects remembered these items significantly better than the ones without odor.
To find out why, the subjects were given brain imaging scans and the results showed that the piriform cortex, the brain’s main odor processing region became active when the subjects were shown an image with an odor associated with it, even when the odor was removed. How do we make use of this in everyday life? Go to a restaurant and order something new and try and identify the ingredients by their aromas. Or take a ceramics or sculpting class where you work with your hands and the materials have a definitive scent.
I hope these suggestions are of some help to you. Remember, aging and memory loss isn’t inevitable but if you want to pretend to forget something like your mother-in-law’s Valentine’s Day Party, rest assured, it’ll be our secret.