Health Q&A

Memory Health: Train Your Brain

July 1, 2018

What is memory?

Memory is the ability to encode, store, retain or recall information from past experiences. We use these memories to influence our current and future decision-making behaviour. Memory is a vital survival tactic as it allows us to adapt and learn to suit our environment. It is through our memories that we acquire new skills based on the knowledge gained and stored in our brains.

How does memory affect us?

What if you lost your memory? Imagine forgetting how to drive, what your children look like or where you keep certain items in your home. The consequences of memory loss would be catastrophic because memory is such an integral part of our daily cognitive functioning, thinking and reasoning.

Brain disorders and diseases that affect memory

While there are plenty of reasons for a minor memory lapse, there are medical conditions that can cause mild to severe memory impairment. They include:

Mild cognitive impairment

Those suffering from mild cognitive impairment find their short-term memory compromised, but are still able to retain critical thinking and reasoning. It’s often a precursor to a serious ailment like dementia.

Dementia

Dementia is a degenerative brain disorder, which presents as a progressive decline of mental functioning, including memory loss.

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s Disease is a progressive degeneration of brain tissue resulting in dementia. Sufferers eventually lose the ability to think, reason and coordinate movement.

Vascular dementia

Vascular dementia often affects older people and presents as a progressive decline in memory and brain functioning, like the inability to learn, think, organise and process complex information. It’s caused by a reduction of blood flow to the brain, often as a result of a stroke.

Brain health – how to improve your memory

The brain’s hippocampus, or memory centre, regenerates throughout your lifetime provided you give it the right sources to promote neurogenesis (neuron growth). This means you can improve and maintain your memory by nourishing and protecting your brain.

Over time, as you age, you lose muscle mass. The brain is also susceptible to atrophy over time, which impairs the organ’s ability to withstand neurological damage. This results in difficulties with mental performance like memory.

To keep your brain fit and healthy, it’s recommended that you protect it from age-related damage with the following methods:

Diet

While there is no single food that will improve your memory, the good news is that we don’t eat food in isolation. The combination of certain foods promotes brain health and should improve your memory. The best choices are those foods that reduce inflammation and oxidative stress and improve blood flow to the brain.

Fresh fruit and vegetables, healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E and D enriched foods and antioxidants are some of the best foods to include in your diet. Take a look at our previous article on Food For Thought: Foods To Fuel Your Brain for more information.

Exercise

Obesity is a health risk that can negatively affect the functioning of the brain, including memory. It’s recommended to maintain a healthy body mass index (BMI) through physical activity. Exercise allows the secretion of neuroprotective proteins and improves the growth and development of neurons, thereby improving overall brain health. The cardiovascular activity also promotes blood flow to the brain.

Sleep

Studies estimate that a person requires 7-9 hours of sleep each day. Getting enough sleep helps consolidate memories by transforming short-term memories into long-term memories.

Brain memory games

Keep your memory sharp with mentally stimulating and challenging activities. Brain games, like learning new skills, can stimulate your neurological system thereby reducing your risk of developing brain diseases. There are different techniques and tactics you can use to strengthen your memory. The trick is to constantly challenge your brain with new, improved or different tasks so that you force intellectual engagement. These could include:

  • Hand-eye coordination like knitting, drawing or doing puzzles, which improves spatial visualisation
  • Test recall by making lists that you can memorise or learning the lyrics to songs
  • Use mnemonic exercises by creating acronyms and rhymes to remember things
  • Stimulate cognitive functioning with a challenging new task, like taking a self-help class
  • Try putting the calculator away and doing the simple math in your head
  • Stimulate your prefrontal lobes by trying to learn a new language
  • Involve all your senses associated with memory by working with your hands

Having a good memory is a great asset, so try to minimise sedentary pastimes, like watching too much TV, and give your brain the support it needs.

Topmed encourages a healthy lifestyle, which means taking care of your brain health. Keep your memory active and alert by making the right lifestyle choices. Follow our top tips when it comes to improving your memory. Get in touch today to sign up for cover for yourself and your family.

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