Exercise daily. Exercise has a whole host of benefits for your mental and physical health, including warding off depression and bolstering the immune system. But physical fitness also has been shown to increase mental sharpness as people age.
Especially past the age of 40, daily exercise helps maintain acuity in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. In one study, elderly men who were aerobically fit were able to outperform men who were unfit in decision making tasks.
Eat a healthy diet. Brain and heart health may be key to maintaining memory stores as we age, and might even contribute to warding off dementia. Avoid saturated and trans fats, which damage brain blood vessels, and be sure your diet includes:
Healthy fats, such as olive oil and omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish like salmon.
Antioxidants, which contribute to optimal brain functioning; even dark chocolate counts!
Plenty of fruits, veggies, and whole grains, which can help reduce your risk for a stroke.
A moderate amount of alcohol. You heard that right: for adults, a small amount of alcohol can help fight off dementia by maintaining healthy cholesterol and insulin levels in the blood. But be careful to keep the alcohol to a moderate amount: too much alcohol has the opposite effect, and can even lead to a loss of memory (known as a “blackout”).
Get enough sleep. The fog of exhaustion will cloud your mental ability, but a well-rested mind is able to perform at its optimal ability.
Our brains store daily memories while we sleep, so you need rest in order to remember even mundane details of daily life.
You might even consider taking a short nap after learning something new or important, to help store it in your long-term memory.
Use your mind instead of a calculator. Math helps strengthen reasoning and problem solving skills, and you can easily practice, especially simple things that you can easily total up in your head or on a piece of paper. Many people haven't done long division since grade school; give it a try sometime.
When you are in the grocery store, try keeping a running total of the items in your cart. You don't have to add the exact amount; round each price up to the nearest dollar. When you get to the check-out you'll find out how close you were!
Don't stop learning. A study out of Harvard found that advanced education is associated with stronger memory as a person ages. Even if you didn't go to college, you can continue your education yourself throughout your life.
Go to your local library to gain more knowledge. It is a great place to relax, gather thoughts, and focus on studying. If you have any spare time, carry a book over to the park or stop in at a family restaurant. It all aids in building a sharper better mind, and improves your attitude.
Take a class at a local community college. The best courses are those that are both mentally and socially demanding, such as photography or quilting. You will also have the added benefit of meeting new people and forming new friendships!
Flex your mental muscles. You can improve your mental ability in domains such as logic, problem solving, mental orientation and corrective thought process by working puzzles and doing difficult mental tasks. Challenging yourself mentally can help increase your rational thinking skills, giving you more confidence problem solving in a given situation.
Try crossword puzzles. Older people who do crossword puzzles have better scores on a variety of cognitive tests than those who don't. Although researchers aren't sure if the puzzles cause better mental ability or if people with better mental ability just tend to do puzzles more because they can, it can't hurt to try!
Try computer games. In one study out of Harvard, a game called NeuroRacer was found to improve elderly participants’ ability to multitask, retain working memory, and maintain attention. If you don't want to play computer games, traditional games like bridge are mentally stimulating.
Engage all of your senses. Scientists have found that using all of your senses activates different parts of your brain, which can help you retain a memory. In one study, people were shown images presented with or without a smell, and were found to be able to recall the images with a smell better than those without.
In practical application, this might mean using mindfulness techniques to notice the sights, smells, tastes, feelings, and sounds around you in a given situation, to help recall the event more clearly later.
You can also try sucking on peppermint candy, as peppermint oil has been shown to help aid recall and alertness. Pop a mint in your mouth when you're reading new information or learning something you want to remember later.
Try using your opposite hand to do everyday things. This can be a real challenge, especially if you attempt writing and printing, but it is a great way to force yourself to focus while engaging both sides of your brain.
Sit down and start writing on a piece of paper using your off hand. It will probably start out like scrawl, but you will become more aware of your tense shoulders and gain more control with time. This exercise is also used for epileptic patients.
Find a special talent. No matter what your stage in life, everyone can learn something new and develop a talent or skill. Developing new skills helps to bolster your self-confidence.
Try a sport like skiing or golfing, or join a choral group or amateur comedy club. Relax your expectations and don't strive for perfection; just have fun and meet people while giving it your best shot.
Some skills, such as learning a foreign language or computer coding, are also great for bolstering your mental sharpness.
Express yourself creatively. Creativity has more than one advantage when it comes to keeping your mind sharp and keeping a positive attitude: creativity forces you to think and flex your mental muscles, and the results of your hard work can reinforce your self-confidence and help you enjoy your daily life.
Try your hand at writing poetry, sewing, taking up a musical instrument, gardening, or painting. If you don't feel artistic or creative, baking or writing in a journal are also great ways to express yourself requiring less technical skill.
Try applying creative approaches to daily tasks like shopping on a budget or creating a new recipe with dietary restrictions or limited ingredients. Keep a good attitude about your ability to find solutions in every-day situations.
Serve others. Especially as you age, giving back to your community can give you a sense of purpose and identity that contributes to a positive outlook on life and a good attitude toward the aging process.
Try serving meals at a homeless shelter, volunteering at a senior center to write letters for residents, or working with youth or children at your local faith-based organization. Having a regularly scheduled volunteer job can help you make friends and help others.
Reframe your experiences. It is true that as you age, you will not be able to do everything you could do when you were younger. But instead of seeing those as failures, reframe them as natural, and refocus on things you can do.
Reframing involves looking at your current situation with fresh eyes. In many ways, attitude is everything: you can reframe a negative thought or experience to make it positive. For example, you may not be able to recall things as well as you used to, but instead of seeing that as a personal failure or an embarrassment, recognize it as a natural effect of a life well lived.
Practice gratitude. Scientists have done hundreds of studies on the benefits of a grateful attitude, which include boosting your happiness and life satisfaction. There are several strategies you can try to increase gratitude:
Write a letter of thanks to someone who has made a difference in your life, and deliver it to them with a gift.
Spend time writing. Every day for a week (or more), write down at least three things that you experienced that you're grateful for. They can be big or small. Write how it made you feel. Making this a daily practice, perhaps writing every night before bed, can help you cultivate a grateful attitude.
Write things down. Since you can't (and don't need to) remember everything, you should prioritize your mental space and use shortcuts to help you remember things you don't need to memorize. Writing things down is an important way to ensure that you don't miss appointments, forget medications, or other important things that you can't risk forgetting.
Try keeping Post-it notes or a white board in the office with daily tasks and reminders.
Use a calendar or planner to keep track of important upcoming events and deadlines, and keep a running shopping list to take to the grocery store.
Repeat important details. Repeating things you are told can help to fire pathways in your brain to ensure that you can remember it better later.
When you meet someone new and they introduce themselves, repeat their name right then, and again at the end of the conversation. You can do it casually: in the beginning of the conversation, say, “It's so nice to meet you, John.” Repeat again at the end of your conversation, “It was great talking to you, John.”
Repeat important instructions from your doctor, and if needed, write them down to ensure you remember accurately.
Meditate or practice yoga. By learning to calm your mind and focus your attention, you can improve your mental clarity which has positive effects on your memory and attention span.
In one study, participants who practiced mindfulness for 20-30 minutes daily scored better on standardized memory tests than those who took a nutrition class.
Mindfulness is a meditative practice that involves sitting and breathing slowly while focusing on physical sensations such as your breath moving in and out. Try to meditate twice a day for 10-20 minutes at a time.
Recognize that you may need help at some point. As we age, our mental abilities will decline whether or not we try to maintain a sharp mind: it's just a fact of life. It is important to surround yourself with people you trust so that as you age, you can trust them to make important decisions for you should the need arise.
As people age, they are more likely to remember events that did not actually occur. Having a younger person that you have known for a long time, like a grown child, can help you supplement your memory if you need to recall an event from years past.
Assign a guardian. Before you need one, decide who will serve as your guardian when and if your mental abilities decline. You should hire a lawyer to file appropriate documentation when the time comes.
If you do not assign a guardian, the courts will usually appoint your nearest relative, which could be a brother, sister, spouse, or child. If you have troubled relationships with anyone near you (which is very common), it makes sense to appoint your own so that this important decision is not left up to the court.
Write a will indicating your final wishes for your property and end of life care. If you should lose mental functioning, your will ensures that no one makes decisions that go against what you hoped for your future and keeps you in control.
Make health decisions now. You can make big decisions about your future health and care now and put them in writing so that you're your guardian will have to keep your preferences in mind.
Your lawyer will help you navigate the process, but will most likely recommend an Advance Directive, which includes a Living Will, Power of Attorney or Proxy (generally, but not necessarily, your guardian), and your preferences for resuscitation and intubation (such as a Do Not Resuscitate order).
Ask for help. If you think you might be experiencing a neurological condition such as Alzheimer's or dementia, reach out to those you love and ask for help. There are treatment plans and healthcare options for you to help you if you are battling these conditions.
Symptoms of Alzheimer's can start at any time, but before age 65 it is known as “younger onset Alzheimer's.”
It is normal to feel anxiety, fear, or worry if you are experiencing increasing memory loss. But talking to your children or loved ones now can help you ensure that your future is secure. You can lead a productive and fulfilling life even after a diagnosis.