What are Common Causes of Memory Changes and How to Improve Your Memory
Everyone experiences some memory changes with age. It is perfectly normal, although, many of my older friends are far less forgiving of their memory slips than younger people.
I had a client who couldn’t remember my license plate number when she was searching for my car. Bear in mind, the woman remembered the license plate number of my car, my dad’s car and my husband’s car. But for a minute, the number slipped her mind. She was so upset because she saw it as a sign that she was “losing it.” Mind you, I don’t know any of these license plate numbers, but she couldn’t be convinced that her brief moment of forgetfulness was just that.
So then, what are normal memory changes?
- Slower thinking
- Difficulty paying attention
- Need for more cues (words, pictures, smell) to recall information
- Associations are more difficult
While some memory change is unavoidable, there are some causes that you can improve to help improve your memory. Health related causes that impact memory such as high blood pressure, prescription drugs, bad nutrition, low blood sugar, depression and anxiety can be addressed with your doctor. You can also control lifestyle issues such as lack of sleep, lack of activity, stress or inactive mind/body to help improve your memory.
Memory changes don’t only happen as we age. I know that when I am really busy, I joke that things are falling out of my head because I struggle to remember simple things like where I parked my car. Whether you are having memory issues resulting from age or being too busy, there are ways to improve memory or trigger your memory.
- Be selective. You don’t need to remember everything. It is perfectly acceptable to write things down.
- Really pay attention, especially when someone is being introduced to you. Repeat the person’s name and try to find an association that will help you remember them. For example, I met a new person named Lisa. I immediately thought, oh, she has the same name as my son’s best friend’s mom. I am terrible with names, but I was able to remember her name as a result of this little association.
- Give yourself time to remember. Have you ever noticed that you remember the name of that actor you were trying to remember the next morning in the shower? Step away from that thing you are trying to remember and it may just come back to you when you are not focusing on it.
- Reduce distractions to help you better focus.
- Set up a system of remembering. I used to think I could remember the groceries I needed and I inevitably forgot an item or two. I’ve given up trying to remember and now keep running lists for the different stores I shop on my phone. If you don’t want to use your phone, you can keep a notebook with you for the same purpose.
- Write notes to yourself. If we are going somewhere and there is something I need to take, such as my camera or an item to return, I usually put it near the door and put a post it on the door. I’ve been guilty too many times of walking past the item as I’m racing out the door, so the post it acts as a second reminder.
- Say it out loud. When you say something out loud, such as “I’m putting my keys on my dresser,” you are more likely to remember it.
- Visualize what you are going to do in a different room before you enter the room. I don’t know about you, but I walk into rooms and can’t remember why I was going there about 20 times a day. Studies show that if you visualize what you are going to do in a room, you will be more likely to remember. I’m definitely going to give this a try!
- Keep a calendar and use it. Whether you use a paper or an electronic calendar, use it to record appointments, birthdays, due dates, prescription refill reminders, etc. You can even set reminders for when to make appointments, pay bills or mail birthday cards. The less you try to keep in your brain, the less likely you will forget.
- Give everything a home. You will be less likely to misplace your keys, glasses or medication if you always put them in the same place. I put up a small shelf next to the door where we all put our keys and I purchased a small basket for sunglasses. We now grab sunglasses as we’re leaving since the basket is next to the key shelf.
- If you forget to turn things off before leaving the house, you can do what my husband and I call the “idiot check.” Whenever we’re leaving for an extended period, we do a quick room-to-room check to make sure the windows are closed, lights are off and nothing is left on. Our house is tiny, so it only takes a minute or two, but if you have a multi-level house, you can try doing it on the top floor before heading downstairs so that you only have to worry about the bottom level.
You can also practice brain boosters to keep your mind sharp. The more we practice memory tricks and challenge our minds, the better. Do you have memory boosters that work for you?