Memory loss is a normal part of ageing, however, it can affect us all and is frustrating at the best of times. If your ageing parent is concerned about memory loss, there are ways to improve memory using techniques that can improve their memory on a daily basis.
There are many factors that can affect our memory; stress for example, significantly reduces our ability to retain information, as does depression and anxiety. We have all experienced a busy mind that feels full to the brim, or a lack of patience and attention span. So taking a calm and measured approach is definitely a good start.
Using Mnemonic Devices
Mnemonics are systems intended to assist memory function. You and your ageing parent will more than likely remember using them in school for remembering musical notes; Every Good Boy Deserves Fruit.
A planets mnemonic which was current in the 1950s was “Men Very Easily Make Jugs Serve Useful Needs, Perhaps” (for Mercury Venus Earth Mars Jupiter Saturn Uranus Neptune Pluto).
Mnemonics include anything from patterns of numbers and letters, to visual cues and associations, and can be as simple or abstract as you like.
This is an incredibly useful and effective way of recalling information. Acrostics have been used by almost everybody, they are sentences where each word’s first letter is significant.
Many of us learned the order of the planets and the colours of the rainbow with silly-sounding sentences that have lodged themselves in our brains for our entire lives.
The more widely used is rhymes, such as “In fourteen-hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue”, or the alphabet sung to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, and remembering the number of days in each month.
The Loci method
The Loci method has been used for thousands of years; in ancient Romans, and Greeks. This is where you use spatial awareness, mentally placing things you want to remember in locations that are familiar to you.
A simple example of this is if you want to remember what to buy at the shop, you can write a mental list, then imagine that list on a notepad you have at home. While shopping, you can locate the notepad in your mind, wherever it is in your home, and recall what you put there – this is a good way to exercise memory.
If that seems too challenging for an ageing parent, then you can suggest that they try using sticky notes around the house. You will be surprised how quickly you are able to associate what is written on them with where you are.
Positive thinking significantly increases the chances of improving memory. The worst thing your ageing parent can do is to be hard on themselves, or adopting a defeatist attitude of “I can’t” or “I’m hopeless at this”. Encourage them to be positive and that it is entirely possible to keep their memory healthy.
The more you expect to be forgetful, the more you will be. so, they can turn this around, focusing on all the small achievements made, and the things they do remember, rather than those they forget.
The same goes for taking a moment to pause, breathe and calmly retrace your steps either mentally or physically.
This is another vital tool for forming and retaining new memories. Many of us are too distracted to give our full attention to what it is we need to remember. Giving that thing priority and time will also give it a chance to solidify in our mind.
Exercise Your Brain
Our brains are no different from the rest of our bodies – they need a balanced diet of stimulation and rest, with the right kind of both. Crosswords, Sudoku, jigsaws and other puzzles are great ways to flex their grey matter – it’s also handy to keep this in mind when thinking of gifts you could send them. Think of the brain as a muscle that needs exercise.
Testing yourself is also a proven means to really ingrain what you’ve learned, regardless of how well you score. There are also many brain exercise applications for mobile or tablets that can be fun and convenient to do. One example is Peak Brain Training – a really easy to use brain workout that maps your improvement over time. You can also schedule daily brain workouts.
Our minds are usually at their most restful just before we sleep. So revising any new information during this time will help it to find its place in your mind. It has been suggested that listening to classical music is a good accompaniment to learning, thanks to its ability to sharpen our concentration whilst simultaneously quietening the white noise.