Photo credit: RgStudio – Getty Images You’re out to dinner and feel a hand on your shoulder as a familiar voice says your name. You turn around and this person is smiling. You know her—you’ve known her for years, in fact. But her name has evaporated from your mind, and all you can muster is a “Hey…you!”
Before you start Googling “signs of dementia ,” rest assured that some changes in memory and cognition are a normal part of the aging process, especially if they manifest as trouble finding words or momentary lapses in attention ( Why did I walk into the kitchen? ). “Many of our cognitive skills, like multitasking and processing speed, peak around age 30 and then tend to decline very subtly with age,” says Joel Kramer, Psy.D., director of the University of California San Francisco Memory and Aging Neuropsychology program.
But they don’t have to. By making smart lifestyle choices, you can retrain your brain so it stays sharp and focused. We asked some of the brainiest experts for research-backed tips on keeping your noggin young . 1. Try to remember before Googling.
The internet is great for telling you the name of that actor whose name won’t budge from the tip of your tongue. But it’s fueling a modern-day condition called digital amnesia—forgetting information because you trust a computerized device to remember it for you. It’s the reason half of us can’t phone our children or office without using our contacts list, according to a survey by Internet security company Kaspersky Lab.
“The brain is a use-it-or-lose-it machine,” says Sara Mednick, Ph.D., an associate professor of cognitive science at the University of California, Irvine. When we learn new things and then recall them later, we activate the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex, areas of the brain intimately involved with memory. But when we rely on external sources, like our phones or the Internet, to remember for us, those regions of the brain can weaken.
The next time you’re struggling to name an actor, challenge yourself not to look it up. “Work through it and trust that your brain knows the answer—you just need to find it in there,” Mednick says. Similarly, try to make your way to a new address without using Google Maps—or if that’s too daunting, take a new route home from work. “It’s all about not living in automatic mode,” Mednick says. “The more you think things through or try novel approaches, the more you engage your brain to keep it healthier longer.”