Tips for Improving Memory and Focus in Adults

The Flexibility of the Human Brain

Because the human brain is designed to develop from birth through adulthood, it is inherently able to modify, or re-wire, its own connections. It’s called neuroplasticity (or brain plasticity). Because of this amazing ability, even adults can benefit from enhanced memory and overall cognitive skills. Let’s take a look at how we can continually improve our mental flexibility, focus, and memory.

What’s The First Step to Improving Memory and Focus?

A review of your current health and lifestyle is a good place to start. Because many factors can impact your focus, it helps to consider what can be obvious causes. Health issues such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, inflammation, sleep disorders, blood vessel injury, vision or hearing loss, or medication side effects can all trigger memory disruption.

Whether you have recent memory loss or just want to increase your concentration and recollection of information, there are several ways to keep your neurons working efficiently. To get the maximized results, it’s important to choose activities that you enjoy and can be consistent with over time.

Give Your Brain A Workout

Stay mentally active and train your brain regularly.  Cognitive training can have a significant impact on concentration, according to a 2015 study of 4,715 adults. Just spending 15 minutes a day, 5 days a week can improve cognitive function as well as short-term memory, problem solving, and fluid reasoning.  Activities such as word puzzles, sudoku, chess, jigsaw puzzles, and memory games are all fun ways to keep your brain active and engaged.  Learning new tasks or activities can also boost memory. Pick up a new language, enroll in a pottery class, learn a new instrument, or dance the tango! Any newly learned activity can build new neuropathways within the mind to improve cognitive function and reduce the risk of Dementia.  Build on these tasks even further with the ‘repeating and retrieval’ technique – say it out loud, write it down, and use it in a sentence.

Eat MINDfully

What you put in your mouth directly affects how your brain works. Sugar has become a known offender for many health issues, including brain deterioration. Research from 2017 indicates that drinking too many sugary drinks may have a connection to lower brain volume, an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease. Fill your plate with foods lower in complex carbohydrates and sugar, and higher in Omega-3 fatty acids, shown to delay cognitive decline. The Mediterranean diet, DASH (dietary approaches to stop hypertension), and the MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH intervention for neurodegenerative delay) are believed to improve memory and reduce the risk of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.  These diets focus on eating plant-based and anti-inflammatory foods, such as walnuts, avocado, blueberries, and spinach, along with eggs and fatty fish (salmon or trout). Breakfasts should be low in sugar and high in protein and fiber.  Processed foods, butter, red meat, fried foods, salt, and cheese should be avoided.  On the upside, chocolate is on the “do” list. The results of a 2011 study suggest that cocoa flavonoids, which are the active compounds in chocolate, help boost brain function. Be sure it’s at least 72% cacao and lower in sugar to get the most out of your indulgence.

In addition, your water intake also has a significant impact on brain function. Because the brain is highly dependent on water, even slight dehydration has been shown to cause brain shrinkage and memory impairment.  The water in your system becomes the shock absorber for your brain and spinal cord and helps to absorb nutrients into the body. Aim for 8-10 glasses of H20 per day, at the very least. Drink more if you are very active.

Exercise the Body and Feel Benefits in the Mind.

It’s no secret that regular exercise benefits the entire body.  However, more evidence is showing that aerobic activity can boost blood flow to the brain, resulting in elevated attention levels and increased focus, especially in older adults.  Ideally, 75-225 minutes of exercise per week is recommended to provide optimal results and exercise that includes hand-eye coordination is great for brain building, as well as improving memory and focus.  Over time, consistent exercise will strengthen and enlarge the areas of the brain linked to degenerative brain conditions, shielding it from further damage, so it is especially important for the elderly to keep moving and enjoy some form of exercise each day.  A fringe benefit of exercise like yoga is how it reduces cortisol, the stress hormone.  Cortisol is known to shrink the brain, so any stress-reduction technique is critical in retaining brain mass.  

Build Gray Matter with Meditation

Meditation has long been a practice known to increase gray matter within the brain.  In 2018, a study showed that a regular mindful meditation routine improves brain function, reduces markers of brain degeneration, and improves both working memory and long-term memory.  The results indicated that regular meditation may cause long-term changes in the brain and increase neuroplasticity.  Meditation can be as simple as closing your eyes and listening to your breath, but there are dozens of ways to meditate.  Finding what works for you is important to keep the practice regular.

Healthy Body, Healthy Mind

Maintaining a healthy weight is incredibly important to maintaining brain health.  Obesity and high-calorie diets also lead to inflammation within the body, including the brain, causing brain impairments and reduced brain tissue. 

Better Sleep = Improved Focus

A good night’s sleep is vital for overall brain health.  Get the most out of the time on your pillow by eliminating screen time one hour before bedtime and keeping the temperature comfortable but cool. Wind down with soft music, a bath, or a book – and avoid heavy workouts before bed.  Consistency is also key, even on weekends.  Avoid sleeping in and wake up at the same time each day. 

The Focus Factor: Supplements
Before taking any supplements, you’ll want to check with your healthcare provider.  Folate, choline, Vitamin K, flavonoids, omega-3 fatty acids, and guarana seed extract are all popular supplements known for improving memory and focus.  Curcumin, a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, reduces oxidative damage and inflammation in the brain and is found in turmeric. Many people have a Vitamin D deficiency, and low levels have been linked to reduced cognitive function, so be sure to get your levels checked during your next doctor’s visit. You’ll also want to be aware of certain medications that may cause brain fog, including antidepressants, anti-anxiety, hypertension medications and sleeping aids.

Build Good Memory Habits

The most basic memory habit is to keep checklists.  Handwriting information is linked to memory retention, so keeping a handwritten list is always better than one typed out. Chunking and mind palaces are also useful techniques to build memory.  Other practices like retrieval – using your memory to recall information – will preserve memory, rather than relying on GPS or Google. So next time, lose the GPS and use all of your senses to remember important details.

Do What Feels Good

Spend time in nature.  Go for a walk. Sit near a garden or park.  Take a break or listen to soft music. Socialize with friends.  What helps our minds feel good stimulates the brain and helps its function.

Improving memory and focus doesn’t need to be complicated. Memory is a skill and can be improved with practice and with a healthy lifestyle. Start small – begin with one new thing each day and add on more as it becomes part of your routine. This will ultimately lead to improved memory, better concentration, and the building of cognitive skills for overall brain health.

If you’re worried about memory loss, consider getting a professional opinion. Something more significant can be the cause of lack of focus and concentration. Contact us if you have trouble completing simple tasks or if you’re making more mistakes than usual. Founder of Palm Beach Neurological Center, Dr. Michael Tuchman is a board-certified neurologist and offers treatment to patients with Alzheimer’s, among other forms of cognitive impairment.  Located in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, we can be reached at (561) 694-1010.

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