Everyone knows that the older they get the more forgetful they seem to be. This is because as we age, we not only begin to lose brain cells but our bodies make less of the chemicals that brain cells need to work. As our cognitive processes slow down, it interferes with memory storage and retrieval. If you’ve noticed that it’s been harder for you to remember things like what you ate for dinner last night, where you put your keys last, or even the name of a person you were just introduced to, you may be starting to experience the effects of an aging brain. Studies show that short-term memory, episodic memory, and semantic memory are affected by aging, but difficulties with working memory most commonly experienced. Working memory is the information the mind actively uses to complete more complex tasks like comprehension, learning, and reasoning. Basically, it is the memory that you use when your brain is doing conscious thinking and it usually doesn’t last longer than about 30 seconds. Even though memory loss is associated with aging, there are plenty of things that older adults can do to keep the brain sharp and healthy.
The term “brain food” doesn’t just apply to young people in an educational setting. As we age our brains need the right nutrients to function at optimum levels. B vitamins are important as the help reduce brain shrinkage and protect the nervous system. Vitamin B-6 helps the brain stay healthy and aids with memory retention, while Folic Acid improves mental clarity as it is used in red blood cell production. Omega-3 fats help to prevent memory loss and dementia as they contain acids that act as anti-inflammatories which keep the brain cells from swelling and help to repair cellular damage. It’s also important to eat lots of fruits and vegetables that contain antioxidants and phytochemicals which fight free-radicals that cause cell damage and reverse age-related memory loss. You can also incorporate supplements into your diet like Ginkgo Biloba which helps to enhance memory as it increases circulation to the brain.
It’s important to stay active as we age not only to keep our bodies strong but our minds healthy. Exercise is related to improved mental function as those who do it regularly tend to have more brain volume and white matter. This is likely due to the fact that getting your heart rate up increases blood flow throughout the body, including the brain. Better blood circulation and oxygen intake means that the brain is getting the nutrients it needs to encourage the development of new nerve cells. Whether you join an aerobics class or simply start walking the dog in the evenings, you can reduce the risk of cognitive decline just by getting off the couch and moving.æ
When you were younger, the continuous mental activities required of school or work may have been enough to keep your mind in shape. With retirement comes leisure and even though the mental break may be nice, it shouldn’t turn into a permanent vacation. But don’t worry you don’t have to go back to sitting at a desk, there are plenty of ways you can keep your brain sharp that are more play than work. Engage in some brain boosting activities like word games, such as crossword puzzles or soduku, which stimulate the brain’s temporal lobes as they challenge verbal language ability. Picking up a hobby like knitting or woodwork will not only be an enjoyable way to spend your free time, but will help to increase mental alertness as it involves active thinking. Also, it’s never too late to learn something new and by participating in an educational class at your local community college or community center you can help to challenge your brain and keep it agile.