How Memory Falters As We Age And What You Can Do About It
Human bodies are finite. Although humans can regenerate some body parts, like skin and blood cells, a person’s body slowly wears out over time. As the body ages, memory can start to falter. Yet despite physical changes, scientists have found ways to keep your memory healthy and active.
Beginning at the age of 20 years old, human memory experiences normal losses due to physical changes. In the hippocampus, the part of the brain that relates to learning and memory, nerve cells decrease by 5% for every decade a person ages. Nerve cells are needed to maintain the nerves and synapses, which are the spaces where memory travels between nerves. Healthy synapses allow humans to learn new information and remember past experiences.
Scientists also theorize that the brain produces less of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine as humans age. Lower levels of acetylcholine make it harder for memories to move through the nerves, causing the memory to falter. This may be another reason why people have a harder time remembering things as they get older.
Lifestyle can also affect memory. Damage done to the brain by a poor diet, harmful chemicals, diseases like depression and anxiety, and poor health can affect how the brain functions. People need sleep, physical exercise, and proper nutrition to keep their bodies and minds healthy.
Use It or Lose It
As you age, your ability to remember can also falter if you don’t practice keeping your memory active. A lifetime of experiences can lead people to believe they know so much they don’t need to pay close attention to new details.
However, if you don’t regularly challenge your brain to learn new things, then when you do want to remember something new, it can become a struggle. When a person is young and in school, studying is a habit that trains their brain to be active. As a person ages, they can fall out of the practice of learning and find it hard to remember new things.
People also get comfortable with the routines of their lives. You have been exposed to hundreds of thousands of words, concepts, and ideas throughout your life. But as you age, you may give up some areas of knowledge because they are no longer important to you.
What you cared about as a young person, like the name of the latest bands or the price of groceries, may no longer apply as you get older. If you don’t listen to music as often as you age or now make enough money to buy things that aren’t on sale, the information you once remembered easily will be harder to remember now.
What You Can Do
Despite the physical and mental changes to your memory as you age, there are things you can do to keep your memory active and healthy.
Researchers suggest these ways to sharpen your memory:
• Use Rewards and Challenges for Learning
• Physical Exercise
• Mental Stimulation
Train your brain to learn and remember by using rewards and challenges. Try learning how to cook a different type of food and reward yourself with making new meals. Study history before taking a trip to a new state or country.
Stay relevant and work by participating in seminars or classes and learning new techniques or systems. When something has meaning to you, through rewards and challenges, you are more likely to remember it.
Physical exercise is vital to your memory too. Regular exercise increases oxygen flow to your brain, raises the levels of stress-relieving hormones, and reduces your risks of cardiovascular and other diseases. Exercise and physical health are key components of a healthy memory.
You can also help stop your memory from faltering as you age by getting enough mental stimulation. Brain games, taking a class and trying something new helps keep your mind active and sharp.
Scientists have found that rats exposed to increased mental stimulation had larger brains than rats who weren’t exposed to increased mental stimulation. Finding ways to challenge your brain and stimulate your mind has benefits for your memory.
Although aging creates physical and lifestyle changes that can cause memory to falter, you can fight memory decline. Staying healthy, physically, and mentally, can improve your ability to remember.
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Madelaine is a graduate of Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics at Universidad de Santa Isabel with a Master Certification in Health Coaching at Dr. Sears Wellness Institute. She is also a National Board Certified-Health and Wellness Coach with the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching, a Certified Quiet the Noise Group Coach with Elias Institute of Professional Coaching, a PACES facilitator, a Seizure First Aid Trainer, a trained HOBSCOTCH Memory Coach and brain health professional. In her spare time, she enjoys listening to music, dancing and reading oracle or tarot cards.