Alzheimer's Disease and other Dementias
Memory Loss
Senior Health

Top Tips for Keeping Your Memory Sharp

As we age, regular mental activity is just as important as consistent physical exercise. Here, from the Here, from the experts at Harvard Medical School, are six smart ways to activate your brain.

Stay Engaged

According to the experts from Harvard, the MacArthur Foundation Study on Successful Aging, a long-term study of aging in America, found that education level was the strongest predictor of mental capacity as people aged. And 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

But, the Harvard experts emphasize, it probably isn’t the years of formal education or the kind of occupation that helps memory. Instead, it’s likely that these are simply demonstrations of a lifelong habit of engaging in mentally challenging activities.

A lifetime of learning can help keep the brain in shape, whether that learning occurs on the job or at home (learning a new craft, for example, or a new language.)

Stay Connected

Having meaningful social contacts can also help maintain mental skills and memory. The Harvard experts point out that interaction and challenging activities often go together (volunteering, tutoring children). Relationships can be with family, friends, or caregivers as well as community groups.

According to Harvard, a study conducted with the Baltimore Experience Corps indicated that people who helped elementary-school children during class and library improved their memory.

For more on boosting your memory and diagnosing memory problems, buy Improving Memory: Understanding age-related memory loss, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.

Slow It Down

When someone is talking to you, look at the person and listen closely, the Harvard experts say. If you missed something, ask the person to repeat it or to speak more slowly. Repeat what you’ve been told so you can be sure you understand the information correctly.

Get Quieter

We’ve all had the experience of trying to talk in a noisy restaurant. It’s hard at any age, but it can be especially difficult as you get older, If you find that you tend to become distracted during conversations, try getting together with people in quiet environments, the Harvard experts suggest. Try meeting at someone’s home; you can also ask for a table near a wall. For minimum distraction, sit facing your companions and with your back to other tables.

One Step At a Time

Staying focused on one task will help you avoid distractions. If you’re asked a question while you’re doing something else, tell the person they need to wait until you are finished. The Harvard experts also suggest that you avoid being distracted by routine calls. Let them go to voicemail.