Do you often find it difficult to remember where you kept your car keys or your partner’s birthday? These incidents may initially give you the tag of a ‘forgetful professor’ which you may enjoy, tacitly though. But what if these goof-ups become frequent and start interfering with your functional life? Well, the frequency and magnitude of such events may act as a cue to your dwindling memory. Don’t ignore them.
As you age, your memory and other cognitive abilities start to decline. The ability to grasp and retain new information goes downhill. “Here age does not only stand for how old you are according to the day you were born (chronological age) but also refers to how old do you feel in terms of your health (biological age),” says Dr Prahlad Kumar Sethi, Senior Neurology Consultant, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Delhi. Your biological age is determined by various factors such as your lifestyle, genetics, the food that you eat, diseases and other conditions. “If you are a 30-year-old who has an extremely unhealthy lifestyle and food habits then the possibility is that your biological age is much more than 30,” adds Dr Sethi. So, your biological age, which is dependent on various lifestyle and genetic factors, is a crucial determinant of your cognitive skills including memory.
“A healthy brain lives in a healthy body. Starting from a young age, one must follow a routine of healthy eating, regular exercise, and sleeping at the right time for a sharp mind,” says Dr Sethi.
Here is a list of a few simple yet effective activities that you can incorporate in your daily routine to rev up your memory.
Cooking is an amazing exercise for your brain. Cooking helps to activate your brain regions associated with a sense of smell, touch, sight and taste. A smell can trigger strong emotions and memories. Whenever you smell anything, it is processed by your olfactory bulb, which starts inside your nose and runs along the bottom of your brain. The olfactory bulb is directly connected with amygdala and hippocampus, the two brain areas that are strongly related to your emotions and memory. Therefore, when you cook the smell of the food may remind you of the favourite dishes that your mom used to whip up for you. Also, cooking requires you to memorize the various ingredients and their right proportion to create the desired flavour. All these make cooking such a memory-boosting experience.
Make your own mnemonic phrase
A mnemonic phrase is a learning method that helps you retain information. Using an acronym is one of the techniques that this method employs to help you remember things better. Take RICE for example. It is the acronym for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Isn’t it easier for you to remember the process like this? Another mnemonic technique known as acrostic uses the same concept as the acronym except that instead of forming a new ‘word’, it generates a sentence that helps you remember the information. An often-used acrostic in math class is: Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally. This acrostic mnemonic represents the order of operations in algebra and stands for parentheses, exponents, multiplication, division, addition and subtraction.
Learn a new language
You can shield your brain from the effects of ageing by simply learning a new language. According to a study conducted by the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, the University of Texas at Dallas, learning something new and cognitively challenging activities over a gradual period can help improve cognition in older adults.
Learning a different language helps to grow four key areas of your brain, which are directly related to memory. A growing body of research also associates the act of picking up a new language with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. It improves short term and long-term memory. If possible, get yourself enrolled in a foreign language course or join an online language class.
Practise simple mathematic problems:
Mathematics may not be the subject you love, but it can protect your cognitive abilities from declining while you solve simple addition and subtraction problems daily. When solving a mathematics problem you put in a lot of effort to memorize different formulas and theories to find the answers. In the process, you use brain areas associated with arithmetic memory and retrieval. In order to flex your brain muscles, you should avoid using a pen, paper or calculator. Rely on mental mathematics.
Take up a new sport
According to a study conducted by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, regular aerobic exercise helps to increase the size of your hippocampus- the part of the brain responsible for learning and verbal memory. Exercise has been proven to maintain long-term cognitive health and reduce the risk of dementia. Moreover, it helps to improve and develop your memory and thinking skills by promoting the production of certain proteins that affect the growth of new blood vessels in your brain and increase the volume of the cerebral regions that control thinking and memory.
Smoking, drinking and an unhealthy diet high in harmful fats and cholesterol act as the perfect recipe for disaster for your cognitive functions. If your diet lacks vitamin B12, essential for normal nerve functioning, then it can result in confusion and even dementia. The natural sources of this vitamin include dairy products, meat, fish and cereals. Eat fresh fruits, vegetables and especially dry fruits such as walnuts and almonds as they fuel your brain with omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients crucial for memory.