Everyone has memory lapses. We blank on our long-time neighbors name, or we forget the cake in the oven until the smoke detector goes off. But being forgetful in midlife is common.
Studies show that one-half to two-thirds of people 50 and older notice memory changes. Many reasons for this and steps to remedy it.
Memory has three stages:
learning, consolidation, and recall. If invited to a friend’s surprise 50th birthday party, for example, first you must learn the four Ws: where, when, what to wear, and whom to bring. Next, the party information needs to become stored in your memory, or consolidated.
Finally, when the time comes, your brain must recall it. This sounds simple, but many factors influence whether you ever attended that party.
Learning: Likely to learn the information in the first place if you pay close attention to it. But women are multitaskers, and as we listen we may be loading the dishwasher and shooing the dog, from the cats food. As we get older, interruptions distract us more, which can interfere with this initial learning.
Consolidation: Next, your brain is likely to store a memory if it relates to a long-term memory you have, such as attending this same friends surprise 40th birthday party. In addition, research shows that getting enough sleep is important to memory consolidation, and for many women in midlife, sleep is elusive.
Recall: Your brain must retrieve this information. The stumbling block is each memory stored in the brain as a unique pattern of nerve cells, similar, memories have overlapping patterns. So you’re trying to remember the name of the restaurant where the party is, but what comes to mind is the burger joint you went to last weekend. This blocks information you need.
How can you increase the odds that you’ll remember your friends party, and give your memory an overall boost?
Try these 4 lifestyle changes.
- Get enough sleep. Memorization skills were best in people who got eight hours of sleep a night. Those who slept four or six hours a night performed as bad as a group who stayed awake for three days.
- Exercise. Yet another reason to workout is that physical fitness and mental fitness go hand in hand. Physical activity increases chemicals that nourish nerve cells in the brain. Exercise reduces the risk of high blood pressure and other illnesses that can cause memory loss.
- De-stress. When stressed, our bodies flood with cortisol, the same hormone released during labor that allows us to forget the pain of childbirth-a good thing under those circumstances, but bad when trying to find the car keys.
- Eat healthy. The same diet that’s good for the body turns out to be good for the brain, one rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats from fish and nuts, and low in saturated fat (found in meat and dairy products) and trans fat (mostly used in processed foods).
Making a few healthy lifestyle changes can reduce forgetfulness in midlife women. Try it, and help restore the edge to your mind and your memory.