How To Slow the Effects of Aging on Memory

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( — August 8, 2023) — A little humor in the face of growing old, decrepit, and batty is always welcome, especially from Mark Twain. He once said, “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” 

Yet it’s hard not to contend with the reality that our brain is also matter, however complex, that deteriorates over time. Age-related memory loss can start in one’s 40s and affects roughly 40 percent of people ages 65 and over, according to a report by the National Institutes of Health. 

While this process of gradual wear and tear is, to a certain degree, inevitable, there are ways to slow it and even reverse aspects of it. 

Types of Memory That Decline with Age

There are four main types of memory that decline with age. Sensory memory is the ability to recall sensory information after you’ve seen, heard, touched, tasted, or smelled something. Short-term memory is remembering that lasts 15-30 seconds, according to learning scientists. Working memory is the storage of information in the brain for manipulation purposes, such as solving a problem or constructing an argument. Long-term memory holds all those experiences from the more distant past that are accessible indefinitely.

Exercises That Sharpen Memory

Brain exercises for sharpening memory are everywhere on the internet. Popular suggestions include crossword puzzles, playing chess, and learning a new language or hobby.  Some brain exercises, such as those involving numbers, demand a challenging mix of logic, concentration, and retrieval.

Then there are the many apps that claim to improve memory. To what degree they do, and how their results compare with one another, may become clear with some experimentation and trial and error.

Moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise—running, swimming, cycling, etc.—has improved memory and cognitive function in multiple studies. Do it regularly to accrue its maximum benefits, scientists say. It also supports mood and sleep, which affect mental acuity. 

A Low-Fat Diet Rich in Antioxidants

Why is a low-fat diet better for your memory? Diets that are high in saturated fat and sugar seem to impede memory. They also tend to cause more inflammation, a common marker of disease that is also associated with steeper, aging-related declines in memory. 

Foods rich in antioxidants can help mitigate these effects. Examples include many fruits like berries, grapes, and watermelon, as well as beets and dark leafy greens. For more suggestions, check out Harvard Health’s article, “Foods linked to better brain power.”

Non-Invasive Brain Stimulation 

Today, research has also begun to uncover the promising application of various forms of non-invasive brain stimulation for mental performance, including memory. Neurofeedback is one example. It is a form of biofeedback that essentially trains the brain for more optimal function, by reprogramming dysfunctional brainwave activity. 

These lasting structural changes point to the brain’s remarkable ability to grow and learn—and even slow memory loss. Who knows? Maybe one day with more innovation none of us will have to mind the effects of aging on memory.