10 Simple Ways for Seniors to Keep Their Memory Sharp

Share: copied!

Due to normal changes in the brain, some degree of memory loss is a normal part of getting older. For many people, something as simple as misplacing their car keys or forgetting a doctor’s appointment is the first clue that their cognitive abilities aren’t as sharp as they used to be.

There’s no foolproof way to prevent memory loss, regardless of its cause, but there are things that you can do to stay sharp even as you age. Here are 10 of our favorites.

Did You Know: as we age, it’s important not to confuse negligible memory lapses with the warning signs of dementia. To learn more, read our guide: Look Out for These 9 Warning Signs of Dementia.

1. Spend time with other people.

Humans are naturally very social beings, yet social isolation is a prevalent issue for seniors, who often don’t feel physically or mentally prepared to leave their homes unless they have to.

This is significant because social interaction has been shown to improve cognitive function by exercising mental processes that deteriorate in isolation. In fact, a 2021 study from Japan demonstrated that spending time with other people can even prevent dementia.

Socializing can be as leisurely as joining a club based on your interests, volunteering for an organization you care about, or meeting someone for lunch every week. What counts is getting out of the house and spending some time with others.

2. Get physically active.

In America alone, nearly 30% of people age 65 and older are obese. While this is lower than the average across all age groups, seniors are more susceptible to the potential health risks associated with obesity, including cognitive decline, according to a study done for Frontiers in Neuroscience.

By contrast, according to the same study, regular exercise can improve cognitive function by reducing inflammation, improving vascular flow, and stabilizing the nervous system, in addition to aiding with weight loss.

You don’t have to adopt a strict gym regimen to take advantage of these benefits. A morning walk can do wonders for your mental activity levels. Consider getting a smartwatch or fitness watch to help keep track of your physical activity.

3. Get an appropriate amount of sleep.

An appropriate amount of sleep is important at any age, but seniors are particularly susceptible to the cognitive effects of inadequate sleep. Importantly, this includes both too little and too much sleep, with the optimum being around seven to nine hours per night.

According to a study from Sleep Medicine Clinics, sleep and cognitive functioning become more closely linked as we age. Inadequate or interrupted sleep has been shown to contribute to cognitive decline and the onset of dementia in seniors.

To ensure you get adequate sleep, refrain from eating or drinking too close to bedtime, limit long naps, and try to turn off all devices and distractions at least an hour before bed.

4. Manage chronic conditions.

According to the National Council on Aging, 80% of seniors manage at least one chronic condition, such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, Alzheimer's, and dementia. Managing these conditions can be a full-time job.

Thankfully, lifestyle management can be the key to successfully managing most chronic conditions. This includes getting adequate sleep, eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and managing stress — all things that help with mental sharpness too.

5. Eat a balanced diet.

A balanced diet can improve your physical health, but the right foods can also improve cognitive function as well. According to Integracare, a diet rich in plant-based proteins, vegetables, fish, and whole grains can slow cognitive decline as we age.

A great way to implement a balanced diet is to shop for fresh ingredients at a local farmer’s market or grocer and try new recipes to make the ingredients enjoyable to eat. This can help you get out of the house too.

6. Stay mentally active.

Just like muscles need to be used to make them grow and stay healthy, your brain needs a workout too, especially as you age. The abilities to think clearly, remember things, learn new things, and keep your mood in check all fall under the umbrella of “mental health.” But many seniors wonder, if physical activity improves physical health, what activities improve mental health?

The kinds of mental activities that make a lasting impact are those that are both challenging and enjoyable. Whether it’s writing, photography, quilting, or music, studies show that engaging the brain improves its outlook as we age.

7. Quit smoking.

There are many reasons to quit smoking as a senior, including the well-documented benefits to blood pressure, heart health, and cancer prevention. However, you may not know that quitting smoking can also help you stay mentally sharp as you age.

A 2008 study conducted for BMC Geriatrics found that current smoking correlated positively with the risk of Alzheimer’s in seniors. Significantly, having smoked in the past did not statistically increase the risk of mental illness.

In other words, you should reconsider the idea that it’s “too late to quit.” A current smoking habit poses a threat not only to your physical health but your mental health as well.

8. Keep learning new things.

Learning new things can be stimulating, but only certain types of mental activities can provide a measurable benefit to your mental health. This means that you can’t expect to stave off Alzheimer's by listening to music or doing puzzles.

A study for the Association of Psychological Science revealed the kinds of activities that do have an impact on long-term cognitive functioning. They include mainly learning new skills, like how to play an instrument, or a craft like photography; learning a new language; or researching something complex, like science concepts or gourmet recipes.

These tasks are mentally taxing enough to keep you sharp as you age (and have fun doing it).

9. Stay away from stress.

There are numerous science-backed reasons to avoid stress at any age. Particularly for seniors, unchecked stress can cause high blood pressure, fatigue, headaches, insomnia, digestive issues, muscle tension, and more.

According to The American Institute of Stress, stress can cause a weaker immune response, which has been demonstrated to increase the chance of developing age-related dementia. The enzymes that stave off age-related mental illnesses decrease as we age, even more so in the presence of chronic stress.

10. Get a pet.

To reduce stress and make more time for exercising and socializing, getting a pet may seem like an inconvenient additional responsibility. However, studies like the one in Aging Mental Health show that getting a pet can actually improve our resilience to mental health disorders and stress as we get older.

This happens not only because owning a pet is a basic human instinct that makes us happy, but also because of what owning a pet requires. Feeding and caring for a pet helps keep you on a regular schedule. Walking a pet is a great way to get in physical activity and socialization.

Pet ownership checks a lot of the boxes for maintaining your mental health as you age, which can improve mood, sleep, and memory too.

Bottom Line

Some memory loss is normal as we age, as evidenced by losing focus in normal tasks or forgetting names and dates. However, memory loss that seriously affects daily life, such as forgetting where you are or no longer being able to reason and learn normally, could be a sign of dementia.

If you find yourself so disoriented that you can’t remember where you are or experience chest pain, you should seek medical attention. However, simply forgetting an appointment or a name isn’t always a cause for concern. It could merely indicate a normal sign of aging that this list of 10 memory-strengthening strategies can help you try to prevent.