Alzheimer’s disease affects about 6.5 million people in the U.S. aged 65 and older in 2022. This is roughly 10.7% of all Americans who are of Medicare-eligible age. Just this year, Medicare confirmed that it will cover Aduhelm, a drug that treats Alzheimer’s disease by slowing cognitive decline.
This is a victory for those with Alzheimer’s disease and loved ones of those living with Alzheimer’s, but prevention is key as well. While there is no proven prevention strategy yet, there is evidence that maintaining your cognitive skills — including exercising memory retention — can help reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Age-related memory loss is normal, but there are plenty of things you can do to keep your brain sharp and your thoughts focused. Learn more about the ins and outs of memory loss and the ways to help keep it at bay.
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What Is Memory Loss?
Memory loss is when you start to forget things, people, and places. It can range from small bouts of forgetfulness, like forgetting where you put your keys, to more troublesome moments, like forgetting people you have met before. Usually, normal memory loss due to age does not interfere with your daily life, though it may make things more challenging or frustrating.
When memory loss gets so serious that it interferes with your daily life, it may be a sign of Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), Alzheimer’s disease, or dementia. These are more serious cognitive diseases that go far beyond normal memory loss and cause life-altering complications.
What Causes Memory Loss?
Aging is a primary cause of memory loss. As you get older, your brain changes and can have difficulty retaining new information or recalling old ones. But while many cases of normal memory loss cannot be helped, some environmental and health factors can impact your brain health. For example, a vitamin B-12 deficiency or underactive thyroid gland can also make it harder to remember things. Other causes may include:
- Having a head injury or other head trauma
- Having a brain tumor or brain infection
- Having a stroke
- Suffering from depression, bipolar disorder, or another mental illness
What Are Early Symptoms of Memory Loss?
Early symptoms of memory loss include taking longer to learn new things and forgetting where things were placed. Other symptoms you might experience include:
- Losing things or forgetting where you put them
- Forgetting which word you wanted to use when speaking
- Forgetting the day for a moment, but then remembering it later
- Missing a monthly payment or an appointment you had scheduled in advance
- Making a bad decision every so often because you forgot an important detail
However, it is important to note that these symptoms should only happen occasionally. When forgetfulness becomes chronic or more extreme in nature, it can be a warning sign of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
5 Ways To Prevent Memory Loss and Improve Memory
While no one can completely halt the effects of aging on memory retention, there are also actions you can take to stimulate your brain and keep it as sharp as possible. Consistently challenging yourself with tasks or new experiences can help you stay healthy.
One of the simplest ways to prevent memory loss is to exercise. Guidelines from the American Academy of Neurology suggest that twice-weekly exercise can help prevent mild cognitive impairment. In particular, aerobic exercise (cardio) is ranked favorably by doctors.
Here are some of the ways to incorporate exercise into your routine:
- Go to the gym. One of the easiest and most versatile ways to exercise is to go to the gym. You can use cardio machines like treadmills and ellipticals, lift weights, and even take fitness classes. And if you don’t have a big budget for a monthly membership, try looking for older adult discounts. One good one is SilverSneakers, which is offered through select Medicare plans and gets you into a nationwide network of gyms at no cost.
- Take virtual fitness classes. Exercising in-studio is an excellent option for boosting your morale and getting you moving, but it can get expensive if you go a few times a week. A cheaper way to see the same results is to attend virtual classes because these are often more affordable than their in-person versions. In many cases, you can even find classes on sites like YouTube.
- Take a walk. Walking is an amazing way to exercise as you get older, and conveniently, it takes no real investment. All you need is to put one foot in front of the other. Check and see if your community has a track or trail you can walk around a few times a week.
- Take the stairs. You may be surprised how strenuous stairs can be when you are used to the elevator. If you go to a place where you have the choice between an elevator, escalator, or some short flights of stairs, try using the stairs.
2. Eat a Healthy Diet
Your diet plays a huge role in your overall health, so it should come as no surprise that it can also affect your brain. Research suggests that the right balance of foods can help reduce your chances of memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease, and other age-related mental declines. In particular, the Mediterranean diet has shown signs of slowing cognitive decline.
The Mediterranean diet is high in fruits and vegetables, fish, and unsaturated fats. It is also low in red meat and dairy. A combination of the Mediterranean and DASH diets — better known as the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet — could also be effective for preserving your memory.
If you want to try the MIND diet, increase the percentage of these items in your meals:
- Green, leafy vegetables
- Olive oil
- Whole grains
On the other hand, foods to avoid on the MIND diet include:
- Fried foods
- Red meat
3. Socialize Regularly
Being a social butterfly is about more than just being popular — it can also be a way to preserve your brain health. One study of more than 2,200 women found that those who had robust social networks had a lower chance of having dementia or other cognitive impairment. While scientists aren’t sure exactly why this is the case, one suggestion is that being in a social network can reinforce healthy behaviors. For example, you may be part of a group that goes walking or you might be a member of a bowling team.
Staying in touch with friends, family, and neighbors can help build a healthy social network. Even if they don’t live around you, you can stay involved through phone calls, texts, and visits.
You can also join groups in your local community. Consider your interests and see if you can find organizations that cater to them. This way, you can forge new connections while doing something you already enjoy.
4. Participate in Mentally Stimulating Activities
Just like how exercising your body will keep it strong, exercising your brain can also keep it fortified. Mentally stimulating activities have long been considered an effective way to keep the brain active. By challenging your brain frequently, it keeps the connections between your brain cells healthy, which is important for memory retention.
Mentally stimulating activities don’t have to be big things. In fact, they can be things as simple as reading, taking a class to learn something new, learning a language, playing a musical instrument, or doing mental puzzles like crosswords or sudoku regularly.
5. Get Enough Sleep
Sleep is crucial for your brain’s health. When you sleep, your brain gets a chance to rest while your body repairs itself. For adults aged 65 and older, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night. Lack of sleep is also linked to health problems like depression, stroke, and heart disease.
To make sure you’re getting quality sleep, follow these tips:
- Turn off electronics an hour before bed.
- Avoid caffeine after 3 p.m.
- Make sure your room is dark and quiet.
- Stick to the same sleep schedule every day.
- Choose a comfortable mattress that’s supportive.
Do What You Can to Prevent or Slow Memory Loss
Some extent of memory loss is inevitable, but you can help decrease how it affects you when you exercise, eat well, stay in touch with loved ones, learn new things, and get enough restorative sleep. Be consistent with your efforts over a long-term basis to ensure you are doing all you can to keep your mind sharp.