Many of us have experienced the disorientation that comes with memory lapses. Whether it’s talking about a movie and realizing you can’t remember its title, suddenly blanking on someone’s name, or standing in the middle of a room not knowing why you entered in the first place. Forgetting can be frustrating. When we are young, memory issues are not a significant concern. However, as we age, our brain changes, and mental processes begin to slow down. We start needing more time to encode and recall information. This can often be mistaken for dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease.
Age-related memory loss, including occasional forgetting, does not indicate major cognitive problems or diseases in the brain. However, aging should not impair mental abilities or interfere with simple daily tasks. If it does, it can be a sign of a more severe issue. It’s common for people to report memory decline as they age, claiming that they cannot remember things as easily or quickly as they used to.
The likelihood of experiencing this age-related memory loss can be reduced. Factors including our habits, lifestyle, activities, and attitudes, contribute to our brains’ health. According to a HelpGuide article, “The brain is capable of producing new brain cells at any age, so significant memory loss is not an inevitable result of aging.” This suggests that if we take good care of our brain’s health, we can help it work optimally throughout our lives.
A recent nine-year longitudinal study by Emily Hittner and her colleagues at Northwestern University revealed that positive feelings and attitudes could help decrease age-related memory decline. The study examined age, gender, education, depression, negative affect, and extraversion. Throughout the years, participants were asked to report the range of positive emotions they experienced. Participants then performed memory performance tests, and trends in the data collected were analyzed.
The study found evidence of memory decline as all the participants aged. However, those who reported higher positive affect levels had a memory loss curve that was less steep than those who reported lower levels of positive affect. Positive affect is defined as feeling enthusiastic, attentive, proud, active, optimistic, and cheerful. Therefore, over almost a decade, those who more frequently reported positive emotions showed less memory loss. This suggests an association between positive emotions and age-related memory decline, supporting the increasing research on positive affect’s role in healthy aging. Therefore, feeling enthusiastic and cheerful often not only betters your mood, decreases stress levels, and helps you be happier, but it might also save your memory!
Other than having a positive outlook on life as you age, different ways of decreasing the chances of experiencing memory decline include:
- Challenging your brain by learning and trying new activities that require attention and mental effort, such as new skills or difficult tasks.
- Exercising regularly and staying active. This can entail short walks, jumping jacks between online lectures, or an energy-boosting workout.
- Ensuring that you get between seven to nine hours of sleep every night and eating a balanced diet.
- Maintaining an active social life. Interacting with friends (while following health and safety guidelines) can stimulate the brain and positively impact memory. Stay connected, even if it’s remotely!