Memories are made of this

 Do you repeatedly check that you locked the back door before you go out? Do you have more trouble finding the right word? 

Your memory and cognitive health in general, affects your ability to live independently and safely at home in later years. 

Latest research about memory loss and aging suggests six ways to help yourself and your family members. 

In most cases, memory lapses are a normal effect of age-related changes in your brain known as Age-Associated Memory Impairment (AAMI). 

The brain actually shrinks as we age due to the loss of neurons and produces less of the chemicals that support our cells. This makes it harder for us to recall facts and information that we know we know. 

But, not all memory failure is permanent. 

You can suffer from temporary memory loss due to physical or emotional conditions. Some typical causes are dehydration, fever, head injury, low thyroid function, high blood pressure or reactions to medication. 

Stress plays a major part too. 

A US study of 1320 adults in their 50s found that those who had experienced major stresses such as family conflict, financial difficulties or legal issues had significantly higher risks of dementia in later years. 

For each individual stress, for example divorce or job retrenchment, the brain could age up to four years. 

 Here are some proven tips to help protect memory:

 1. Feed your brain right
Your brain needs a regular supply of omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA. In older adults, lower levels of DHA in the blood have been associated with smaller brain size, a sign of accelerated brain ageing. You’ll get DHA from seafood, salmon, tuna, sardines and herring. If this doesn’t appeal to you, consider taking a supplement. 

2. Choose water and tea over sugary drinks
Start the day with two glasses of water to replace the fluids you lost during the night. For an elderly person who forgets to drink, set up a jug of water for the day. Forget the soft drinks.  A study of over 4000 people found that individuals who often drank sugary drinks and fruit juices were more likely to have poorer memories and smaller overall brain volumes.

There’s good news about tea. A Singapore-based study of 950 mentally healthy people found that those who drank tea regularly had a 50 per cent lower risk of cognitive decline than those who rarely drank tea. All teas had this positive effect as long as they were brewed from tea leaves. 

3. Build in some stress breakers

Add one simple and cheap stress break to your day, such as listening to some peaceful music, sitting in a local park or calling a friend for a chat. Also think about one event or routine that you are doing that you don’t enjoy. Can you stop doing it?  

4. Work with your memory
Set yourself a challenge to memorise something. You may want to learn the names of your medications, the street names of a major city, song lyrics or a favourite poem. Success breeds success so start with something small and enjoyable. 

5.Practice recalling information 
Read a short article in the paper and write down three key facts. Check back that you are correct. Extend this to longer articles. Doing this regularly will build mental muscles and give conversation starters to share with your friends. 

6. Be organised
Keeping your keys, phone, purse and other items in the same place will free up your memory for more important tasks. Many seniors already have these systems in place. If there are care workers coming into the home, make sure they don’t upset the system by tidying up. 

So, with these simple tips, I hope you can feel more positive about your memory as you age and take some steps to help yourself and your family members prevent and slow down any cognitive changes. 

 Kendall Morton is the Director of Home Care Assistance Sunshine Coast to Wide Bay. Call 5491 6888 or email kmorton@homecareassistance.com