Brain Health
Senior Health

Strategies for Staying Sharp

As we age, it’s natural to worry about loss of memory and even mental capacity. Here, experts from Harvard Medical School share the best ways to stay sharp:

Keep busy and engaged

According to the Harvard experts, the MacArthur Foundation Study on Successful Aging concluded tht the more education a person had, the more memory and thinking skills he or she  found that education level was the strongest predictor of mental capacity as people aged. Other investigations have shown that complex work- instructing or negotiating, for example – also carried a lower risk of dementia.

The more education, the more likely an individual was to maintain his or her memory and thinking skills. Other research has shown that people who held jobs that involved complex work, such as speaking to, instructing, or negotiating with others, had a lower risk of memory loss (dementia) than people whose jobs were less intellectually demanding.

Stay connected

The Harvard experts say that establishing and maintaining close ties – whether with family, friends, caregivers or community groups – helps maintain mental skills and memory. Social relationships can provide intellectual stimulation as well as support in times of stress.

Dealing with changes in memory skills

The Harvard experts say that normal aging leads to gradual changes in thinking and memory skills. Sometimes people find it more difficult to focus and to absorb information quickly. That slowdown, the Harvard experts say, can lead to too much information entering short-term memory, thus reducing what a person can remember in the short term, as opposed to long-term memory of what happened years ago.

There are some strategies that can help, though:

If someone talks to you, look at the person and listen closely. If needed, ask the person to repeat it or to speak more slowly.

Paraphrase what is said to make sure that you understand it and to reinforce the details.

Get together with people in quiet surroundings such as a friend’s home rather than a noisy restaurant. The Harvard experts say that if you do go to a restaurant, try sitting at a table near a wall, and face away from the other diners so you can focus on the people you’re with.

Focus on one thing at a time. The Harvard experts recommend that you try to avoid interruptions. You can improve your ability to focus on a task and screen out distractions if you do one thing at a time. If someone asks you something, tell them to wait until you’ve finished your task. Don’t automatically answer the phone if you’re doing something; your caller can leave a message.

For more information, buy the Harvard Health Publication Special Report Improving Memory: Understanding Age-Related Memory Loss. Click here to order.


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