Preserving Memory

Neuroscience researchers have identified various factors that play a role in maintaining healthy memory in people over the age of 55, as well as recommendations for avoiding memory decline. A recent study suggests that specific early interventions have implications for preventing Alzheimer’s disease.


It’s not unusual for people to forget things occasionally. You may misplace your car keys and spend a frustrating amount of time looking for them. Or you may forget where you have left your glasses. These age-related memory problems don’t interfere with daily routines or make it difficult to perform tasks of daily life. But memory loss that disrupts daily life may be an early sign of dementia, which worsens over time and can render sufferers unable to navigate tasks necessary to daily living.

Dementia typically involves decline in a particular area of thinking skills. Symptoms of such declines may include forgetting common words when speaking, asking the same questions repeatedly, putting items in inappropriate places, such as putting a milk carton in the oven, getting lost while walking or driving in familiar areas, or experiencing mood or behavior changes for no apparent reason.

Memory decline is among the early signs of cognitive and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Understanding and designing interventions to inhibit memory decline is critical to efforts aimed at preventing or delaying such illnesses. Researchers at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada have discovered different factors involved in maintaining healthy memory and for avoiding memory decline, according to a recent study.

“We found different risk factors for stable memory and for rapidly declining memory,” said G. Peggy McFall, PhD, the lead author and research associate in the Department of Psychology. “It may be possible to use these factors to improve outcomes for older adults.” McFall conducted the study in collaboration with Roger Dixon, a professor in the same department, using machine learning to analyze data from a longitudinal study based in Edmonton. The study found that adults with healthy memory were more likely to be female, educated, and engage in more social activities, such as helping to plan church socials, and engage in novel cognitive activities, such as using a computer or learning to play bridge.

Those with declining memory tended to engage in fewer new cognitive activities. Limited social activity also played a role in the decline. “These modifiable risk and protective factors may be converted to potential intervention targets for the dual purpose of promoting healthy memory aging or preventing or delaying accelerated decline, impairment, and perhaps dementia,” said McFall.

You can take proactive steps toward preserving your memory. Make efforts to maintain or improve your social connections and interactions. Identify an interest in a new endeavor, and undertake to learn something new, such as crocheting or woodworking. And exercise is “medicine” for maintaining both healthy bodies and healthy memories. It’s never too late to begin an exercise program, even if it involves only daily walking.

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