Many people fear the decline in memory that can come with aging, especially when it may culminate in Alzheimer’s disease. But a new study gives us concrete steps to take to help boost our memory health as preventive measures.
Neuroscientists at the University of Alberta have identified several key factors to help maintain memory health and reduce the risk of memory decline in people over age 55, according to a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
"We found different risk factors for stable memory and for rapidly declining memory," said study author Peggy McFall, research associate in the department of psychology at the University of Alberta, in a press release. "It may be possible to use these factors to improve outcomes for older adults."
The findings: Factors associated with healthy memory
While not all the factors researchers identified are things that can be readily changed (like age and sex), they did pinpoint several modifiable factors. Here’s what they found.
Adults with healthy memory were more likely to:
- Be female
- Be educated
- Engage in more social activities (like hosting dinner parties and attending gatherings with friends)
- Engage in more novel cognitive activities (like taking up a new language, filling out your tax forms, playing chess, or working on the computer)
Additionally, in adults ages 55-75, healthy memory was associated with:
- Lower heart rate
- Higher body mass index
- Living with someone else, such as a spouse
- Engaging in self-maintenance activities, like shopping or making your dinner
And for adults over 75, people with healthy memory had a faster gait and fewer symptoms of depression.
For people with declining memory aged 55-75, higher heart rates and fewer self-maintenance activities were more common, and adults over 75 with memory decline had a slower gait and participated in fewer social activities, according to the study.
Knowing these risk and protective factors can help docs work to help prevent memory decline and Alzheimer’s earlier in people's lives and with a targeted approach, McFall said in the press release. For example, doctors may use this data to try to increase mobility for men over age 75 to help promote memory health.
Keep your memory sharp with these tips
Looking for more ways to boost your memory? Here are some other activities to build into your routine, according to the Mayo Clinic:
- Get active: Exercise increases blood flow to your brain. The Department of Health and Human Services says healthy adults should get 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity (like brisk walking) every week.
- Exercise your brain, too: Think of your brain like a muscle — you have to use it to stay in shape! Try crossword puzzles, card games, or other mentally stimulating activities.
- Be organized: It’s harder to remember things when you’re living in a messy environment. Keep lists, a planner, or the calendar in your phone to keep track of appointments and important to-dos. And think like Marie Kondo: Every item in your home should have its own place!
- Get enough sleep: Sleep is vital for memory health, so don’t skimp — healthy adults should get seven to nine hours nightly, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
- Eat healthy foods: A nutritious diet will also benefit your brain and memory health. Focus on fruits, veggies, whole grains, and low-fat proteins like fish and beans.
- Get chronic conditions under control: Living with a chronic illness like diabetes or depression? Managing those and your overall health will also help you protect your brain and memory health.