FEELING forgetful? Give your grey matter an upgrade with these practical tips.
Ever walked into a room and forgotten what you’ve gone in there for, or found your car keys in the fridge after unpacking the shopping? Maybe you’ve turned up for school on an inset day?
We all have memory lapses from time to time, and in most cases, it won’t mean anything is seriously wrong.
But it can be frustrating and, given memory loss is a key early indicator of dementia, it’s definitely not something to skip over.
A report by the Alzheimer’s Society states that there are currently 900,000 people living with dementia in the UK – a figure predicted to rise to 1.6 million by 2040.
“Multitasking, social media, notifications, neural degeneration, certain medications, drugs and excess alcohol can all potentially cause damage to our memory,” says Professor Hana Burianová, a cognitive neuroscientist working with Healthspan.
“Keeping your memory in good shape is not just good for reducing dementia risk, but will help ward off mental decline as you age.
“You only get one brain – so take care of it!”
Professor Burianová recommends doing one or more of these activities every day to sharpen up your powers of recollection.
Ironically, it’s easy to forget to stay on top of doing your memory-boosters, so set an alarm or habit stack – AKA combine them with something you already do daily, like brushing your teeth.
Whatever you’re doing, stop and take five.
“Active mindfulness focuses our attention and working memory,” says Professor Burianová.
“Look around and name five things you see, four you can touch, three you hear, two you smell and one you taste.”
Involving all five senses centres your concentration, slows you down and allows you to process things more deeply in your mind, which will help your memory.
You don’t have to go straight for the cryptic crossword. Geography and word games can help improve your knowledge and boost your memory.
For starters, try Wordle, the online game where you get six attempts to guess a five-letter word each day, and its sister game Worldle, where you guess the country based on its shape.
“Both of these are challenging and need our concentration.
They stimulate brain plasticity – how the brain changes and reacts to new information – and the areas of the brain that look after how we pay attention and make memories,” explains Professor Burianová.
Just don’t cheat and reach for a dictionary or map for help!
Alternative games include Framed, where you have to guess the film from the still image, or Semantle, in which you try to unearth a hidden word based on other words it shares its meaning with.
A new study from the University of York has found that older adults who play digital puzzle games have the same memory ability as people in their 20s.
Close Your Eyes
Hopefully your bedroom isn’t full of sharp corners, as getting dressed with your eyes closed or in the dark can feel odd at first, as we’re so used to doing everything with our eyes wide open.
But Professor Burianová says it prevents us from running on autopilot.
“Performing a routine activity in a new way brings it into our consciousness and necessitates more of our concentration and long-term memory,” she explains.
It’s worth choosing the outfit you’ll be wearing beforehand though, to avoid a fashion faux pas!
Get the kids involved in this nostalgic game. Lay out a bunch of household items on a table and let everyone observe them for 60 seconds.
Then cover up the items before writing down what you remember.
You’ll be surprised at how fun this game can get. You can also set yourself memory tasks.
For instance, instead of writing down your shopping list, try a new, memory-boosting trick to help you remember it: sing your list along to a catchy song, or create a memorable visual pathway for the things you need to buy.
For example, imagine skateboarding a fish finger on a ketchup lake that’s surrounded by trees of broccoli.
Not just great for slashing stress, boosting mood and getting your heart rate up, sex supports your mind, too!
“Sex releases the happy hormones that help improve immune and cardiovascular functions, supporting cognitive and emotional processing, including our memory,” says Professor Burianová.
Feel free to have a nap afterwards, too.
“Memory traces – AKA how memories are stored – are consolidated during sleep.
“They are embedded in our complex memory network, and sleep is extremely important to memory.
“During sleep, the brain is also washed of pathogens, including protein deposits that can cause Alzheimer’s disease,” she adds.
Find Your Voice
Struggle to remember names?
When you meet someone new for the first time, repeat their name as you shake their hand and try to work it into conversation another two or three times to cement it in your memory.
Research has found that saying a name out loud, or even just mouthing it to ourselves, helps us remember it for longer.* Alternatively, record new information so you can listen back to it.
Grab your phone and record voice notes, thoughts and reminders, so if you’re meeting lots of people, or on the way back from meeting a new mum on the school run, try recording a voice note that describes who you met, their name and what they look like.
Listen back to it a few times to really make sure you’ve remembered the key details.
Find A Beat
Pick your favourite dance tunes, whack on a yoga video or move your body however you like, because being physically active is amazing for your brain health and memory, helping to pump oxygen around the body’s cells.
“If our levels of oxygen are low, we feel sluggish, mentally tired and lack focus, which affects memory,” says Professor Burianová.
Being physically active also activates the lymphatic and glymphatic systems – these are part of the immune system and help remove pathogens, including viruses, infections, bacteria and waste, from the body and brain.
“Movement also helps our brain by aiding the production of new neurons and connections, plus it helps to improve concentration, which leads to better memory,” says Professor Burianová.
Ball sports are particularly effective, especially ones where you have rules to learn and hand-eye coordination skills to master, such as, cricket, badminton, tennis and basketball.
WHEN TO SEE YOUR GP
Professor Burianová says that if you’re experiencing the symptoms below, it might be helpful to book a doctor’s appointment.
- Extreme difficulty concentrating and/or remembering.
- Extreme fatigue and/or brain fog.
- Problems finding words or expressing yourself.
- Inability to ignore irrelevant stuff.
- Inability to organise thoughts.
- Danger to yourself or others, eg, forgetting to turn the oven off.