We all get a little forgetful from time to time. The good news is there are lots of things you can do to help improve your memory.

From forgetting someone's name or missing an appointment, to walking into a room and forgetting why you're there, there are times when we all forget something.

NHS common causes of memory loss

Memory loss or being forgetful can often be caused by something common or treatable, like:

  • Natural part of getting older
  • Stress
  • Sleeping problems
  • Anxiety and depression

But if you've become increasingly forgetful or if memory loss is impacting your day-to-day life, it's best to get yourself checked by your GP.

How to improve memory

Besides being able to remember things there are lots of advantages to having a good memory. Working memory, for instance, is where you can do complicated mental tasks while holding information in your head.

If you've noticed your memory isn't as good as it used to be - or if your partner or someone else you care for isn't as mentally on the ball as they once were - here are a few things you could try:

Keep learning

Education and learning is associated with better mental functioning as you get older, with experts suspecting the longer you keep learning, the better your brain becomes at staying mentally active. And it's never too late to learn, since learning at any age can help make new connections in your brain.

Try taking opportunities that come your way at work to learn new skills, or if you're retired you may want to consider doing some voluntary work that will help keep you mentally active. Or you could think about taking up a new hobby, learning how to speak another language or to play a musical instrument (even listening to music - particularly instrumental music - is thought to be good for your memory, as well as your focus and attention). 

Whatever you decide to learn, try to make sure you find it meaningful and interesting, as some experts believe the more serious you are about learning and the more you look forward to it, the bigger the boost to your brain.

Play games

There are lots of games that help keep your mind and memory active, which may help make new connections in your brain. Try doing jigsaw puzzles, playing board games such as Scrabble or chess, or card games such as bridge. 

Try playing this popular card game to help improve both your memory and concentration:

  1. Shuffle a full pack of 52 cards and spread them face down on a table
  2. Take turns with the person you're playing with to turn over any 2 cards. Make sure you've both seen the cards, then turn them back over again
  3. Try to remember what and where each card is. The aim of the game is to find pairs, so keep going until you find one. If you find a pair, take them off the table and keep them
  4. When all cards have been paired and removed from the table, the player with the greatest number of cards is the winner

Connect with others

Scientists believe that people who stay at home on their own most of the time are more likely to develop dementia than those who socialise. So try to get out and about with others whenever you can. Short-term social interaction can help too, with one study suggesting that simply talking to another person for 10 minutes a day could improve your memory and mental performance.

Walk a mile a day

Exercise is good for your brain in many ways, as it helps increase oxygen levels and blood flow throughout the body. Staying active could keep your memory in shape, as experts believe regular physical activity helps increase the number of cells in the hippocampus, which is your brain's memory centre. In fact, taking regular exercise may help prevent the gradual shrinking of the hippocampus that usually comes with ageing.

Walking is one example of a type of activity that's thought to help prevent brain shrinkage. And if you're lucky enough to be able to take a walk in natural surroundings it may boost your brain more than walking in a town or city environment.

Dancing may also be particularly useful for your memory because it's not only a form of physical exercise but also an opportunity to learn something new - such as new dance steps. Gentler forms of exercise such as yoga and tai chi may also have a positive impact on your working memory and concentration.

Eat brain foods

To get the best out of your brain you have to give it the right type of fuel. And one way to give it the right fuel may be to follow the Mediterranean diet, which has been shown to boost memory and slow down the rate of age-related cognitive decline. This diet includes lots of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, beans, nuts, legumes, seeds and regular helpings of fish and seafood along with moderate portions of poultry, eggs, cheese and yoghurt.

Meanwhile specific foods that have been shown to boost memory include oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, pilchards, sardines and herring - aim to have at least one portion a week - as well as eggs, nuts, blueberries, cherries and beetroot. Flavouring your food with a spice called turmeric may also be beneficial, as the active ingredient in turmeric has been linked with the slowing down of the onset of dementia.

On the other hand the foods you should avoid include those that are high in saturated fat and salt. That's because these foods are widely thought to increase your cholesterol levels (saturated fat) and your blood pressure (salt), both of which may be linked to the development of certain types of dementia. You may also want to cut back on sweet foods, since having lots of sugar on a regular basis can lead to high blood sugar levels, which in turn may lead to decreased activity in the hippocampus.

Get the sleep you need

If you're not sleeping well, there's a good chance you won't be able to think as clearly as you should, and that your memory could be impaired. Sleep is important not just for memory but it also helps you learn and perform skills.

Find out more about getting a good night's sleep by reading our Good Sleep Guide. And if you're still not feeling alert during the daytime, why not take a power nap?

For more advice and information, call +44 (0) 1788 556 366 or chat to an advisor online 24 hours a day.

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