You loved that series on Netflix — or was it Hulu? – what’s his name from that movie with the actress, you know, with the cool hair?
If you’ve had such senior moments, you’re not alone.
“Almost everyone struggles with some form of amnesia before they reach middle age,” says Gary Small, MD, chair of psychiatry at Hackensack University Medical Center and author of The Memory Bible: An Innovative Strategy to Keep Your Brain Young.
In a nationwide Gallup survey of 18,552 American adults ages 18 and older, researchers found that about 14% of the youngest group (ages 18-39) complained about their memory.
And the problem seems to be getting worse, thanks to increased screen time and poor lifestyle choices.
But you can fight back against forgetfulness.
In a recent episode of the Write about Podcast nowdid dr. Small laid out some memory-building techniques that will make your brain happy.
Why we are so forgetful
To understand why we forget things, it helps to understand how we remember them in the first place.
“Memory has two major components: learning and remembering,” explains Dr. Small out. “You have to get that information into your brain, and you have to be able to retrieve it.”
But anyone who’s ever played with a smartphone, computer, or social media knows how distracting they can be. And this is a problem.
“If you don’t focus your attention, you’ll never get that information into your brain,” says Dr. small. “We are constantly bombarded with more and more incoming data. This often results in an information overload that likely reduces the percentage of stimuli that enter our short- and long-term memory.”
Bad health equals bad memory
Unhealthy lifestyle choices are another major factor in memory loss.
Just as eating too many donuts and not getting enough sleep can lead to problems like diabetes, obesity and heart disease, these behaviors can also affect our brain health, according to Dr. small. “They cause your brain to age prematurely.”
Our mental health also suffers. Many of us feel overwhelmed by the pandemic, work burnout, gas prices and overall life in the 21st century.
“When we experience feelings of depression and prolonged anxiety or stress, we become distracted and our memory capacities decline,” explains Dr. Small out.
How to improve your memory
While many of us struggle with forgetfulness, there are effective ways to get our memories back in shape.
Look, snap, connect
dr. Small suggests a memory skill he and his former colleagues at UCLA developed called “Look, Snap, and Connect.”
The premise is that if you can create something meaningful, it will become memorable. How does it work?
To look: First, slow down, notice and focus on what you want to remember. Take in all the details and meaning, such as a new face, a conversation, or directions to a new location.
snap: Take a mental snapshot of what you want to remember. The brain has a natural ability to remember things visually, so take advantage of that. For example, say you are meeting someone for the first time and want to remember them. A mental snapshot can be their hairstyle or their smile.
Connecting: Link those mental snapshots to remember in a chain, starting with the first image, associated with the second, and so on. When you meet someone named Harry and notice that he has a lot of hair. You connect Harry to hairy.
Studies show that exercise increases memory function. University of Illinois research found that when you exercise, your body produces brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which Dr. Small describes it as “fertilizer for your brain cells.” BDNF causes “your brain to sprout branches so they can communicate more effectively,” he explains.
You also don’t have to adopt a rigorous regimen. Even a brisk 20-minute walk a day lowers your risk of Alzheimer’s disease, according to Dr. small.
Insomnia is the enemy of memory. When we don’t get enough sleep, we shut down our ability to concentrate and remember things. dr. Small recommends seven to eight hours of sleep a night. He also advises against too much caffeine, which makes us irritable and distracted.
Eat more foods with antioxidants and curcumin
Obesity can cause cognitive impairment later in life, according to Dr. small. He recommends avoiding processed foods, such as refined sugars, which are pro-inflammatory and bad for the brain.
Oxidation also wears down your brain cells, so try eating foods rich in antioxidants, such as fish, nuts, olive oil and avocados.
dr. Small is also rich in curcumin, a yellow pigment found in cumin, curries and mustard.
In research done at UCLA, people taking curcumin improved their scores on memory tests by 28 percent over 18 months.
Do brain aerobics
Just as we train our muscles, we also need to train our brains. Think of it as 24-hour fitness for our hippocampus.
According to Dr. Small: “The information in our brains is passed on through billions of dendrites, or extensions of brain cells, similar to branches of a tree. Without use, our dendrites can shrink or atrophy; but when we practice them in new and creative ways, their connections remain active as they pass on new information.“
Mentally stimulating activities may include playing word and crossword puzzles, listening to music, writing in a journal, solving brain teasers, or watching. Danger!
In his book, Dr. Small for some brain builders, including this exercise:
Take a piece of paper and a pencil and try to write your first name with your non-dominant hand (ie left hand if you are right handed). Now take a second pencil and try to write your first name with both hands at the same time. Now try it with your last name
Listen to the whole Write about Podcast now interview with dr. Gary Small: