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Staying Sharp

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These tips will help keep your memory strong at any age. 

HealthCheckDec2015Memory lapses can occur at any time, but they tend to happen more frequently as you get older. “Aging is influenced by genetic factors, lifestyle choices and environmental exposures,” says LaKisha Bastian, M.D., M.P.H., West Jefferson Medical Center. “Since we cannot change our genetics, we can improve and preserve our physical and mental wellness with the appropriate lifestyle choices.”

Most forgetfulness or memory problems experienced by older adults are a reflection of normal changes in brain function, which slow certain cognitive processes, making it a bit harder to learn new things or ignore distractions. Though you cannot fight aging, here are four proactive strategies for protecting and sharpening your mind.

1. Never Stop Learning
Mental exercises that challenge the brain are believed to help stimulate communication among brain cells. In your leisure time, read; play chess or bridge; write; do crossword or jigsaw puzzles; take a class; learn an instrument; or take up painting. At work, take on a project that involves skills that you don’t normally use. Whatever you pursue, make lifelong learning a priority.

2. Use Multiple Senses
The more senses you use when learning or experiencing something for the first time, your brain becomes more involved in retaining that memory. When dining out, try to guess the ingredients of a dish as you smell and taste it. Or try something tactile, like sculpting or gardening, noting the feel and smell of the materials you use.

3. Budget Your Brain Power
Tools like calendars, reminder apps, maps, shopping lists and address books keep routine information easily accessible so you can put more mental energy into learning and remembering more important things. Remove clutter from your home and office to minimize distractions; then create and use a catchall for important items like your keys, phone and wallet.

4. Say it Again
When you want to remember something you’ve just read, heard or thought about, repeat it out loud — or, better yet, write it down. Mnemonic devices, such as acronyms or songs, are another creative way to jog your memory. “Keeping your brain active and challenged has been shown to slow cognitive decline,” Dr. Bastian says. “Other tips include reducing stress, getting enough sleep and maintaining connections with family, friends and community.”