Seven ways to improve your memory

Seven ways to improve your memory »Play Video

Do you sometimes go to get something, get there and forget why you left in the first place?  We jokingly refer to these lapses in memory as "senior moments."  But the Problem Solvers say there are seven things you can do to protect your brain against decline and improve your memory.

Get physical

You'll want to do at least 30 minutes of heart-pumping exercise each day.  Research has shown a link between exercise and reduced risk of cognitive decline. And in a 2012 study, Alzheimer's patients who walked two hours or more a week actually improved their thinking skills.

Live cleanly

That means no smoking and drink alcohol only in moderation. When you do drink, choose red wine, which may actually benefit your memory.

Eat a Mediterranean diet

We're talking fruit, veggies, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds. You want a low to moderate amount of fish, chicken, low-fat dairy and olive oil and an even lower amount of red meat.

"White flour, white rice, all of your refined sugars and grains do seem to be a strong risk factor for developing memory loss," says Dr. Miles Hassell, medical director of Integrative Medicine at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center.

Dr. Hassell says supplements like ginko biloba, folic acid or omega-3 fatty acids have been disappointing. It's better to get those compounds through your diet.

Sleep

If you blame your memory losses on getting older, it may be that you're simply not getting enough Z's.

Be social

Regularly seeing family and friends or volunteering may delay or even prevent mental decline.

Be optimistic

"I think it's worth remembering to walk on the sunny side of life," says Hassell. "Optimistic people have less heart disease, better health care practices and less memory problems."

Keep learning

Don't focus on crossword puzzles. Instead learn something new - like dance steps, a foreign language or a game like chess. Learning promotes new pathways of communication in the brain.  If you engage in a lifetime of learning, researchers believe you build up a cognitive reserve that may buffer against the effects of Alzheimer's down the road.

And have you seen the commercials for online brain training programs like Lumosity?  Dr. Arthur Kramer, director of the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois and a designer of brain-training protocols for the Department of Defense told Consumer Reports on Health don't bother. Your scores may get better because of repetition, but there's no evidence the games translate to better memory in the real world.

Not all memory loss is normal. Consult with a doctor if you have these symptoms:

  • Forgetting the names of close friends and family
  • Being unable to remember things you just learned
  • Being unaware of your memory loss
  • Frequently forgetting common words or substituting unusual ones
  • Getting lost in your neighborhood or forgetting how you got somewhere
  • Putting objects in unusual places, such as your keys in the freezer
  • Experiencing rapid mood swings for no apparent reason
  • Becoming increasingly suspicious, fearful or easily upset
  • Frequently making clearly inappropriate decisions, like giving large sums of money to telemarketers

For a complete list, go the Alzheimer's Association.