It’s common knowledge that memory function tends to decline with age, but memory loss is not inevitable. There are plenty of ways to keep your mind sharp as you get older and they’re easier than you might think. Let’s look at five techniques that older adults can use to improve their memory, all of which are supported by science.
Learn a new skill
A 2014 study found that learning a new skill can significantly improve memory in older adults. The researchers randomly assigned 200 people to either learn a new skill or do activities that didn’t require learning, like watching movies or listening to music. After three months, the group that learned a new skill performed significantly better on memory tests, while the group that didn’t learn a new skill saw no improvement.
This is an effective technique because learning a new skill actually strengthens the connections between different parts of your brain.
A meta-analysis of 12 studies concluded that regular meditation has the potential to prevent age-related memory loss. Meditation is the practice of focusing on the breath and letting go of your thoughts. Some people say it’s quieting “the monkey mind.” The exact mechanism by which meditation improves memory is not known. But it would make sense that quieting your monkey mind would make more space for your brain to remember more things.
Use your five senses
Some evidence suggests that using all your senses—particularly smell—could help you remember things. One study found that when older adults smelled a pleasant scent at the same time that they looked at a picture, they were much more likely to remember the picture later. It appears that simply using the olfactory senses at the same time as the visual senses improves recall ability.
Other research has also found that the scent of rosemary, in particular, could improve memory. People who took memory tests in a rosemary-scented room performed significantly better than people in an un-scented room. If you feel like your memory is declining, rosemary oil could make a difference for you.
This 2010 study found that regular exercise significantly improved memory function in older adults. The researchers assigned 120 older adults to either follow an aerobic exercise regimen or simply do stretches. After one year, the group that did aerobic exercise actually increased the size of their hippocampus (the part of the brain responsible for memory) and performed better on memory tests. The control group, meanwhile, lost brain mass and saw no memory improvement.
You do not have to perform rigorous exercise in order to get the benefits. The study participants performed only moderate intensity activity three days per week.
Believe in yourself
It sounds like just a corny tag line, but there is actually a scientific basis for the power of confidence in improving memory.
According to Harvard Health, middle-aged learners actually perform worse on memory tasks when they first receive negative, stereotypical messages about aging and memory. However, if middle-aged learners first receive positive messages about the potential to retain good memory into old age, they perform better on the same tasks.
If you want to improve your memory as you get older, you can start by simply adopting a positive attitude about your potential to meet your goal.