It seems to be a commonly accepted belief that memory deteriorates with age. However, research suggests that perhaps it isn’t simply an inevitable aging phenomenon as much as one that is affected by what we are exposed to and how we use our minds. Environmental toxins, belief systems, external memory devices, processed foods, lack of education regarding brain function, disturbed sleep, and stress have all been implicated in various studies as contributing to memory loss.
Nutrition has been proved to be very significant in cognitive processing. Foods like berries, fish, and leafy greens are purported to stimulate brain function, while ultra processed foods, especially those with added nitrates (processed meats being the biggest culprits), have been identified as causing problems with learning and memory at all ages. Dependence on external memory devices means we don’t exercise our memories to make phone calls or keep appointments. In schools we are taught to memorize data in order to pass exams and then we promptly forget because it has no relevance. Rarely are we taught HOW to learn instead of what to learn, so how can we take charge of our own minds to keep our memory as healthy as possible? I’ve heard people say “I’m set in my ways”, a belief that tends to sabotages productive actions. Part of the problem is we don’t know what action to take.
While games like Sudoku, chess, and crossword puzzles are considered effective memory games for adults, there is controversy re: whether such games really improve memory or whether it is mostly marketing hype to sell product. It is true that there is a tremendous amount of evidence that supports the “use it or lose it” concept and we can surely see the motor function losses associated with a sedentary lifestyle, so it makes sense that we need to exercise our brains to keep them functional. Perhaps actually thinking our own thoughts rather than accepting the “social media influences” of what we hear or read as reality might have a powerful impact on keeping our minds healthy.
Making lifestyle changes in diet, behavior and thought processes can help prevent memory loss, but can we train our brains to utilize them better? Joshua Foer, journalist and author, was intrigued with this idea and immersed himself in the world of USA Memory Championships and trainers to discover whether a person with an average memory could actually learn to remember well enough to compete with “mental athletes”. His book “Moonwalking With Einstein”, explores the world of memory and offers research, techniques, and suggestions in an erudite and entertaining style, including how to build a Memory Palace, a technique that gained attention in the TV series “The Mentalist”. If you are tired of forgetting where you left your phone or your keys, you might give this book a read.