memory loss: ways to sharpen your memory

Strengthening your memory is important for avoiding cognitive decline and even preventing dementia. There are lots of fun ways you can do it, from games to socialising. Let’s explore how you can have fun sharpening your memory.

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From forgetting someone's name and missing an appointment, to walking into a room and forgetting why you're there, we all forget things sometimes. Sometimes the cause is simple and treatable, such as: 

  • stress 
  • sleeping problems 
  • anxiety and depression 
  • vitamin deficiency (such as vitamin B12) 
  • alcohol, drugs, or some prescription medications 
  • age-related decline 

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

how to improve your memory 

keep learning 

Learning can create new connections in your brain and give your memory a boost. 

Take opportunities at work to learn new skills, or, if you're retired, consider doing voluntary work. 

You could even start a new hobby, like learning a new language or taking up a musical instrument. 

Being bilingual creates stronger connections within some parts of the brain, meaning it can handle the damage caused by dementia for longer before symptoms appear. 

Playing an instrument, meanwhile, can improve spatial reasoning, verbal memory, and literacy skills. 

Whatever you decide to learn, make sure you find it interesting and meaningful. Some experts believe the more serious you are about learning, and the more you look forward to it, the more it’ll benefit your brain. 

listen to music 

Listening to music - particularly instrumental music - is thought to be good for your memory, as well as your focus and attention. 

play a card game 

Card games are a great way to improve your memory and develop your problem-solving skills. 

You could try finding pairs in a pack of face-down cards, either alone or with a friend. This can challenge and build your memory.  

To make it harder, try to find every pair faster the next time you play. 

do a jigsaw 

Jigsaws exercise your logical thought processes and your problem-solving skills. 

And, because you have to memorise the pieces and how they fit together, it helps your short-term memory. 

You could even try doing a jigsaw 'blind'. To do this, look at the image once, for a minute or two, then turn it over. Then work from your memory of the image. 

You could time how long it takes you to complete the jigsaw 'blind'. Then try to complete it faster the next time. 

test your knowledge 

Trivia can really help to improve your recall. You don’t even have to go down to the pub.  

If you’ve got a copy of Trivial Pursuit collecting dust in the attic, why not bring it out of retirement? 

You could also buy a quiz book, or, if you have access to an Amazon Echo, ask it for the question of the day. 

You could also do a quiz with friends - have everyone come up with questions on different areas, like science, history, films, TV, books, and politics. 

Whichever method you choose, use some of the same questions each time you play, as it will test your memory even further. 

strengthen your storytelling skills 

Storytelling is a great way to engage your brain. Not to mention it hones your creativity. 

Try playing a storytelling game with your family or a group of friends:  

  • put a random group of objects on a table 
  • the first person to play picks up an object and creates the beginning of a story around it 
  • the next person picks another object and weaves it into the story 
  • continue until all the objects have been chosen 

You can also use stories as a memory technique to connect facts or items, making it easier for you to remember things like shopping lists. The more creatively you link them, the better. 

connect with others 

Scientists believe that spending more time home alone can lead to dementia.  

So, try to spend time with others whenever you can.  

Short-term socialising helps, with one study finding that talking to someone for 10 minutes a day could improve your memory and mental performance. 

stay active 

Exercise increases oxygen levels and blood flow throughout the body.  

Regular physical activity also increases the number of cells in the hippocampus, which is your brain's memory centre.  

In fact, exercise may prevent the gradual shrinking of the hippocampus that usually comes with ageing. 

Walking is one activity that's thought to prevent brain shrinkage.  

And, if you're lucky enough to be able to walk in natural surroundings, it may boost your brain even more. 

Dancing is another great option. As well as being a form of cardio, it works your memory every time you learn new steps and routines.  

Gentler exercises, such as yoga and tai chi, may also have a positive impact on your working memory and concentration. 

eat brain foods 

You need to give your brain the right fuel to get the most out of it. 

The Mediterranean diet has been shown to boost memory and slow down the rate of age-related cognitive decline. This diet includes lots of fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, olive oil, beans, nuts, legumes, seeds and regular helpings of fish and seafood, along with moderate portions of poultry, eggs, cheese, and yoghurt. 

Foods that boost memory include: 

  • oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, pilchards, sardines, and herring - aim for at least one portion a week 
  • eggs, nuts, blueberries, cherries, and beetroot 
  • turmeric - the active ingredient in it has been linked with slowing the onset of dementia 

Try to avoid foods high in saturated fat and salt. They’re thought to increase your cholesterol levels and blood pressure, both of which may be linked to developing certain types of dementia.  

You may also want to cut back on sugar, as the high blood sugar levels it creates may decrease activity in the hippocampus. 

get enough sleep 

Sleep is important not just for your memory, but also to help you learn and perform skills.  

If you’re not sleeping well, you may not be able to think as clearly, and this could affect your memory. 

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