Staying Sharp — 5 Ways to Improve Memory, Mental and Cognitive Performance

Life offers us challenges at every age. As we get older, a principle concern is how to remain sharp — how to stay as bright and capable as we’ve always been? Our minds and bodies are never too old for new challenges.

Fortunately it has become simpler than ever before to pursue a wide variety of new activities and hobbies — thanks much in part to the pace of technology, and the ease of increasing ease of access to information it provides.

When asked, 80 to 90 percent of older people say they want to remain in their own homes as long as possible. Yet in Canada alone 1.1 million people are affected with conditions like dementia, which makes living independently truly difficult.

The Revera report, which surveyed more than 1,500 Canadians aged 55 and older, showed 88 per cent of seniors go online at least once a day and seven out of 10 seniors believe technology helps them stay in their own homes longer.
Over half a million people have Alzheimer’s in Canada.

Over half a million people have Alzheimer’s in Canada.

Dementia is not a specific disease. Many diseases can cause dementia, including Alzheimer’s. There is much we do not understand about these diseases, and research is gradual.

The most effective steps that we can take are preventative measures, to keep our memory strong and ensure we reduce the chances of having diminished cognition later in life.

Scientists recommend sticking to six pillars of preventative care.

Regular exercise
Healthy diet
Quality sleep
Social engagement
Mental stimulation
Stress management

Keeping these departments your top priority is key to maintaining a healthy body and mind. You can add years to your life by prioritizing your well-being.

If you’re aged 65 or older, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week — or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity.

If you’re aged 65 or older, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week — or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity.

 

Five Easy Ways to Improve Your Mental Cognition

Stay Mentally and

Physically Active

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Inactivity and sitting can be just as unhealthy for the body as fatty foods and smoking. One of the least complicated ways you can care for your mind as you age is to treat with fresh air. Blood flow to the brain. Regular cardiovascular exercise.

Getting outdoors and running around may be easier said than done for some, but even light and leisurely activity outside for an hour a day can make a huge improvement. Metabolism and digestion work more smoothly, and the chance of developing diabetes is reduced significantly. Find time to play outside.

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Learn a New Language

Learning a new language can sound daunting, but technology has made the process much more realistic for many who want to learn later in life. Online services like Duolingo offer a community environment that supports people learning at their own pace, with discussion boards explaining the nuances of certain rules and conventions.

Other products include Rosetta Stone — which comprehensively teaches total competency in a language, from its technical grammar to its vernacular every day sayings and expressions.

Beyond merely opening up a whole new window of communication with the world, learning a new language has many personal benefits for someone looking to stay sharp.

Studies show that a brain which understands more than one language is constantly activating both languages and choosing which one to use and which to ignore. Northwestern University conducted a study which revealed that the brain is exercised twice as much as normal simply by knowing a second vocabulary of words.

This means that the brain doesn’t have to work as hard to complete cognitive tasks, and can focus more less energy on having to recall memories.

Learn to Type

A major challenge many tech newcomers face is keyboard typing. It’s not hard, but the speed with which many people who aren’t used to computers start off with can be slow, which feels discouraging.

40 words per minute is considered a good average typing speed.

40 words per minute is considered a good average typing speed.

Learning how to type with proficiency not only empowers you to browse the web with ease and write up emails and documents with competency, it’s also a solid method of improving hand-eye coordination.

There are plenty of free typing programs and words-per-minute typing games that can be found online. It’s one of the simplest and most cost effective ways of practicing a vital mental skill.

Once you find yourself looking at the words appear on the screen as you type them, rather than having to glance down to recall where the ‘Q’ is located, you will feel a whole lot more confident using your computer.

Control Stress

A study from the University of California in San Francisco studied the effects of stress at the chromosome level. Dr. Elissa Epel PhD found that individuals feeling higher levels of stress also experienced premature aging.

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Epel suggests that stress may even contribute to early onset of age-related diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, arthritis, diabetes and cancer. She recommends controlling stress by following a healthy lifestyle that includes:

  • Getting regular exercise
  • Following a balanced diet
  • Getting a good night’s sleep
  • Exercising the body
  • Relaxing to recharge
  • Staying social
  • Practicing time managemen
  • Reducing stress-inducing clutter
  • Making time for activities you enjoy

Improve Your Routines

Something as simple as a routine can do wonders for improving your mind’s capacity to remember and function as time goes on. These can take the form of constant routines, like brushing your teeth. But it’s the little ones that really help in the long run.

When you want to remember something you’ve just heard, read, or thought about, repeat it out loud or write it down. This way, you reinforce the memory or association.

For example, if you’ve just been told someone’s name, use it when you speak with them: “So, Tim, where did you meet Eric?”

Make lists for everything. Not just getting groceries. This is not a sign that your memory is getting worse, it’s simply the signature of a well organized person who is keeping track of the complexities of life.

Jeffrey Keller, director of Pennington Biomedical Research Center’s Institute for Dementia Research and Prevention in Baton Rouge, La., says being efficient and organized by keeping ongoing lists is not a sign that someone has a cognitive problem. “If someone increasingly over time begins to require a list to complete simple or routine tasks, it is also unlikely there is a problem.”