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Health April 2013

Aid for Age

Sprucing Up Your Memory

By Tait Trussell

With the right stimulation, what’s in your noggin can improve your memory and even learn new information. You have to nurture your brain with the right diet and other wholesome habits.

“Relish, that’s the name of it,” I agreed. We were having hot dogs for supper. I couldn’t recall the name of that pickled stuff, and had to ask my wife what it was called and if we had any.

Names of people and things sometimes just can’t spring to mind. It’s generously called “a senior moment.” But you wonder if you finally are losing it.

Reassuringly, scientists have discovered that the human brain has a remarkable ability to adapt to change, even in old age. It’s called neuroplasticity. With the right stimulation, what’s in your noggin can improve your memory and even learn new information. You have to nurture your brain with the right diet and other wholesome habits.

Let’s start with physical exercise. It feeds oxygen to the brain. I know, it’s not something to look forward to if you’re still sleepy and stiff in the morning, but if you get in the habit, you will automatically put down your exercise mat each morning and go through a series of stretching and strength-building exercises for about 15 minutes, At least that’s what I do. Exercise also stirs up chemicals in the brain that protects brain cells, scientists say.

But that’s not the whole solution. Next, there’s the matter of sleep. Creativity and problem solving depend on getting enough zzzzzs. Most older men have to arise two or more times during the night to go to the bathroom. Then sometimes the mind starts clicking about some matter. The other night, for instance, I was awake from 12:30 to 2:30. Too many thoughts racing through the mind. Enough sleep is crucial to learning or preserving your memory. Memory research says that important memory-enhancing activity occurs during deep stages of sleep. Scientists at the Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience and Sleep at the City College of the City University of New York, for example, found through tests that a daytime nap enhanced memory performance for the nappers as compared to those without a nap.

Another memory tip is to spend some time with friends and have a little fun. Some people believe that struggling with The New York Times crossword puzzle or learning chess strategy will build brain power. It may. But reacting with others could be the best kind of brain exercise, some scientists maintain. Several friends and I exchange jokes via e-mail. Laughter is said to stimulate several regions of the brain.

Psychologist Daniel Goleman says in his book Emotional Intelligence that laughter seems to help people “think more broadly and associate more freely.”

Share your embarrassing moments and you can laugh at yourself. Frame pictures of yourself and your family having fun. Spend some time with people who laugh readily, and poke fun at crazy occurrences or comments.

Try to avoid stress. Psychologist Richard O’Connor says today we’re working 25 percent longer and harder than 25 years ago to attain the same standard of living, and few people know how harmful stress can be to the brain. In recent years, advances in technology have provided studies showing considerable loss of gray matter — the information processing center of your brain — resulting from depression and anxiety.

You can avoid some stress by believing that you have some control over your life.

Then you also want to eat a brain-supporting diet. Eat more fruits and vegetables with their antioxidants. Omega-3s, found in cold-water fatty fish such as salmon, boost brain power. Green tea protects brain cells. Stay away from sugar and white bread.

Regarding a name or word you can’t remember, associate a visual image with the word or name. For example, to remember the name Rosa Parks, and what she’s known for, picture a woman sitting on a park bench surrounded by roses, waiting for her bus.

Or run through the alphabet. Sometimes you’ll arrive at the letter that starts the name and brings to mind the name you were seeking.

Here’s to sharper memory!


Tait Trussell is an old guy and fourth-generation professional journalist who writes extensively about aging issues among a myriad of diverse topics.

Meet Tait