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Down Memory Lane: how to keep the aging mind agile

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Being forgetful is not necessarily due to age. You can be forgetful at any age. Stress can make you forgetful or poor eating habits or lack of exercise or even hormones going awry can reduce the ability to recollect quickly. Depression, strokes, side effects of medication, and even alcoholism can lead to memory loss. But none of it means you have dementia or the first signs of Alzheimer’s.

Despite all of this, as we age, forgetting things can become frustrating and worrisome.

The stories we remember

As the normal aging process may nibble away at our memory of what happened last week or an appointment made for this week or the name of a well-known film star – what often stays with us well into normal, healthy old age, are our memories of the past. Older people love to remember their childhood, their teenage years, and when they fell in love. And talking about the past, recalling incidents from long ago and placing these incidents in sequential order are important to current memory because they exercise the brain. Memory in itself is a tool to keeping the mind fit and alive in the present. So never stop the elderly from telling their stories. These strolls down memory lane are not only enjoyable and entertaining but also valuable exercises in mental fitness.

Normal forgetfulness

At one time or another we all forget things we should remember, such as misplaced keys, glasses, or a wallet – or we may forget someone’s name we’ve just met or a phone number we used to know well. When we’re young we might laugh it off and say we’ve had a ‘senior moment’ – but as we grow older, these lapses make us worry. Inevitably, as we age, our brain ages and certain physiological changes take place.

We find that we’re not as quick as we used to be and it takes longer to recall something we’ve learned. This affects some people more than others but it’s good to know that this is normal age-related forgetfulness and is not a symptom of a serious cognitive problem because the brain can produce new brain cells at any age. It’s true what they say – that old people often give the best and most honest advice you’ll ever get. Even with some memory loss there are many mental abilities that remain well into old age:

  • The ability to look after yourself independently and make decisions.
  • The common sense know-how you’ve accumulated through life experience.
  • The ability to engage in considered conversation, make judgements and analyse a situation.

Aspects indicating dementia

There’s a big difference between age-related memory loss and dementia. Simply being forgetful is not disabling – you are still able to perform daily tasks and make logical, rational decisions. Dementia, while it includes memory loss, will also display a marked decline in language, abstract thinking and making sensible judgements.

Dementia is disabling enough to prevent participation in activities that you may have always enjoyed before, such as working, playing cards, crafting, social engagements and family engagements. When your ability to engage fully as yourself in these everyday activities declines, you may be experiencing the warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease, or a range of similar conditions that vary against a backdrop of the brain’s ability to function normally.

Things you can do to curb memory loss

Just as you need to work your muscles to keep them in good working condition, so too you have to keep using the brain. Exercise the brain by learning new things, doing a crossword puzzle, playing chess or bridge – and keeping a good social engagement calendar. Lifestyle is the key to keeping the mind fit and healthy. So keeping active, alert and interested is important – as is a good diet of the right brain foods.

In fact, age itself may be the least of your worries. Many elderly people have better memories than younger people. Even if they might forget simple things, their brains are often sharper in games that require a good memory or application of long remembered knowledge. Keeping busy and involved can certainly improve memory loss – and even reverse some loss. It’s never too late. Create the right lifestyle and you’ll protect not only your memory but also heart, bones and lungs. Here are some tips to follow to keep the vagaries of old age at bay:

A balanced diet: There are foods proven to improve brain function and general health such as fish, vegetables, fruits and nuts. Avoiding too much in the way of meat, dairy and sugar is always a good route to go.

Vitamins: There are supplements which have shown some benefits in preventing brain shrinkage such as daily requirements of vitamins C, E, B6, B12, and the ever important folic acid.

Exercise: This may be as simple as a good walk of at least 45 minutes 3 times a week. But good stretching exercises to maintain muscular and bone connection, along with gentle weight-bearing exercises can be hugely beneficial. All exercise increases the blood supply to the brain and therefore helps new cell growth.

Lifelong learning: Perhaps most important of all. Acquiring a new skill, whether it's dancing or sudoku, helps sharpen attention. Learning and reading are the two activities that really exercise the brain. Being present and engaging, and making an effort to remember new information are your brain exercises for everyday. 

The Helderberg Society for the Aged

The Helderberg Society for the Aged provides a variety of secure lifestyle options for elderly people in an environment of compassion and care. We encourage active participation in a variety of activities, physical fitness and hobbies to keep our people enlivened, motivated and enriched.

Warm, fun, entertaining times are always good memory times.

We believe life should be lived to the fullest for all the people within our services which encompass Independent Living, Assisted Living, Home Based Care and Frail Care.

Find out more about us:  www.hsfa.org.za  

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Guest Saturday, 18 November 2017

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