Expert advice on how we all can develop a better memory

Share this content:
James M. Berklan, McKnight's Editor
James M. Berklan, McKnight's Editor

I'm fascinated with long-term care topics that at first blush might seem to be speaking about residents, but upon closer reflection they could be even more interesting to long-term care workers or others personally.

These items typically have something to do with nutrition, smoking, preventing sickness and so forth.

And also the area of enhancing memory. Dr. Alice Vestergaard of Ashford University recently posed some interesting questions for all of us. Are we ever frustrated we can't recall names of people yet recognize their faces? Forget where we put our glasses, or wallet and keys? Blank out on what to say in the middle of a conversation?

If so, you have company — lots of it, she says. That's because some memory loss is natural. “Senior moments” may occur more often but this is not necessarily a sign of decline or the onset of Alzheimer's, she emphasizes.

In fact, certain memory changes are only temporary or reversible. She says that memory can get better with age, in fact. Once you get potential trouble factors out of your life such as sleep deprivation, stress, infections, depression and dehydration (among others), you can get on to improving your memory.

Yes, that's right. Improve. This isn't just about the “other guy.” This is real-life, and it's good for all of us.

“The great news is that scientists now know that the brain is constantly rewiring itself, adapting and growing new brain cells, even throughout the aging process,” Vestergaard explains. “The more people challenge and exercise the brain, the less likely they will be to develop brain damaging disease later in life.”

With that in mind, she has created “10 Tips for a Better Memory.” You can try to introduce them to your residents. But if you did just that, you'd be selling yourself short.

10 Tips for a Better Memory

• If you want to remember, slow down and pay attention to what you want to remember. The number one cause of memory problems is lack of focus.

• Say out loud what you want to remember. Don't worry about people thinking you are strange for talking to yourself. Saying something out loud fires more brain cells and helps in the memory process.

•  Get 30 minutes of physical exercise at least five days a week. This helps promote circulation to the brain and will benefit your heart as well.

• Eat a portion-controlled, balanced diet.

• Control your stress. Worry less. Laugh more.

• Make sure to drink sufficient amounts of water each day.

• Get sufficient amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids. Your brain is approximately 60% fat and 40% water; fuel it with the right kind of fat. The easiest way to accomplish this is to eat fish three times per week.

• Lighten up; everyone forgets from time to time. Accept that you cannot remember everything in this highly complex and fast-paced world.

• Use visualization techniques if they work for you. The more outlandish the visualization, the higher the likelihood that you will remember.

• To remember pass codes, license plate numbers, credit card numbers, telephone numbers, and/or important dates, create a story that links the individual letters or numbers together.

If you have a tip to add to this list for helping improve memory, please leave it in the comment section below.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Alice Vestergaard, professor in the College of Health, Human Services, and Science at Ashford University, specializes in long-term care, emerging health technology, and the study of brain-health in aging. She has more than 25 years experience in both the private and public education sectors and has lectured extensively on her fields of expertise. While at Clinton, IA-based Ashford, she has served as executive dean, program manager, lead faculty, faculty trainer, and curriculum developer within diverse multicultural settings.

Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.