Where did I put my car keys? What is the name of the movie I saw last week? What did I come into this room for? If you have to ask yourself these questions on occasion, this doesn't mean that you have the beginning stages of Alzheimer's disease. In fact, changes in memory are common in middle-aged and older adults. While these changes may cause some frustration, they are normal and should not interfere with daily living. Memory loss that disrupts daily life, however, may be a symptom of Alzheimer's or another dementia, according to the Alzheimer's Association. Learn more about what constitutes normal versus non-normal memory loss. One of the most common complaints from aging adults is trouble remembering names and words. Here are some techniques you can use to sharpen your memory skills:
1. Actively OBSERVE and think about the specific new information that you want to remember. Use all of your senses. Being active in learning information heightens your ability to look at details more closely, and smell, touch and listen more carefully. In other words, pay close attention to what or whom you want to remember.
2. ASSOCIATE or link what you want to remember with what you already know. For example, if you meet a new person named Barbara, think about someone you knew in the past named Barbara. You may learn that Barbara is from Boston or owns a poodle or loves to cook. Associate any/all of the information you learn about Barbara with your own memories, as this will link the new information and become more meaningful.
3. VISUALIZE a picture in your mind of what you want to remember. Using the example of meeting Barbara, build upon that by perhaps visualizing Barbara from Boston cooking a lobster. Sometimes using wacky or fantastical images creates the most robust memories, but for most people, this will require some practice, as we tend to be very logical and serious as adults.
4. ACTIVELY THINK and expand on the details that you want to remember. The more details you can gain by listening and asking questions, the more you will absorb and likely remember.
As World Alzheimer's Day approaches on Sept. 21, I encourage you to take an active role in your brain health by exercising your mind daily. It can be as simple as mixing up your daily routine by taking a different route to work, joining a book club, completing a task in a different way, or even working on a jigsaw puzzle with a friend. These activities can also help you home in on a particular cognitive domain you may be struggling with. For example, if you are having difficulty remembering words, try playing games like Taboo or Scattergories, or you could even challenge yourself to learn a foreign language. Similarly, if you are struggling with attention and calculation, games like Uno or Bridge, or tasks like calculating a tip or balancing a checkbook could help you work that particular area of your mind. Whatever activity you choose, light up your brain by learning to do something new. Just as routine physical exercise enhances your endurance and sense of well-being, your routine cognitive workouts are likely to produce a greater sense of staying sharp!
I also encourage you to join the Alzheimer's Prevention Registry (www.endALZnow.org), an online community of people who have been touched by Alzheimer's in some way and are dedicated to ending this horrible disease. Registry members receive news updates about Alzheimer's research, brain health and upcoming clinical trials. They also connect on the Registry's social media pages (Facebook & Twitter) to share stories, get advice and find inspiration.