By Mayo Clinic Staff
Can't find your car keys? Forget your grocery list? Can't remember the name of the personal trainer you liked at the gym? You're not alone. Everyone forgets things occasionally. Still, memory loss is nothing to take lightly.
Although there are no guarantees when it comes to preventing memory loss or dementia, certain activities might help. Consider seven simple ways to sharpen your memory — and know when to seek help for memory loss.
Just as physical activity helps keep your body in shape, mentally stimulating activities help keep your brain in shape — and might keep memory loss at bay. Do crossword puzzles. Play bridge. Take alternate routes when driving. Learn to play a musical instrument. Volunteer at a local school or community organization.
Social interaction helps ward off depression and stress, both of which can contribute to memory loss. Look for opportunities to get together with loved ones, friends and others — especially if you live alone.
You're more likely to forget things if your home is cluttered and your notes are in disarray. Jot down tasks, appointments and other events in a special notebook, calendar or electronic planner. You might even repeat each entry out loud as you jot it down to help cement it in your memory. Keep to-do lists current and check off items you've completed. Set aside a place for your wallet, keys and other essentials.
Limit distractions and don't do too many things at once. If you focus on the information that you're trying to retain, you'll be more likely to recall it later. It might also help to connect what you're trying to retain to a favorite song or another familiar concept.
Sleep plays an important role in helping you consolidate your memories, so you can recall them down the road. Make getting enough sleep a priority. Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep a day.
A healthy diet might be as good for your brain as it is for your heart. Eat fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Choose low-fat protein sources, such as fish, lean meat and skinless poultry. What you drink counts, too. Too much alcohol can lead to confusion and memory loss.
Physical activity increases blood flow to your whole body, including your brain. This might help keep your memory sharp.
For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity, such as jogging — preferably spread throughout the week. If you don't have time for a full workout, squeeze in a few 10-minute walks throughout the day.
Follow your doctor's treatment recommendations for any chronic conditions, such as depression, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and kidney or thyroid problems. The better you take care of yourself, the better your memory is likely to be. In addition, review your medications with your doctor regularly. Various medications can affect memory.
If you're worried about memory loss — especially if memory loss affects your ability to complete your usual daily activities — talk to your doctor. He or she will likely do a physical exam, as well as check your memory and problem-solving skills. Sometimes other tests are needed as well. Treatment will depend on what's contributing to your memory loss.
Nov. 15, 2016
- Press D, et al. Prevention of dementia. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Oct. 19, 2016.
- Understanding memory loss: What to do when you have trouble remembering. National Institute on Aging. http://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/publication/understanding-memory-loss. Accessed Oct. 19, 2016.
- Forgetfulness: Knowing when to ask for help. National Institute on Aging. http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/forgetfulness. Accessed Oct. 19, 2016.
- 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans summary. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://health.gov/paguidelines/guidelines/summary.aspx. Accessed Oct. 19, 2016.
- Brain basics: Understanding sleep. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/brain_basics/understanding_sleep.htm. Accessed Oct. 19, 2016.
- Schreiner T, et al. To gain or not to gain — The complex role of sleep for memory. Comment on Dumay (2016). Cortex. 2016;30:1.