Staying Sharp For Dummies book cover

Staying Sharp For Dummies

By: American Geriatrics Society (AGS) and Health in Aging Foundation Published: 04-18-2016

Insight and actionable information on keeping your brain sharp as you age

Your brain controls who you are—how you think, feel, and act. As you age, it's not uncommon to want to remain as sharp and "with it" as you were in your younger years. Whether you want to hone your memory, manage stress and anxiety, or simply eat brain-healthy food, Staying Sharp For Dummies shows you how to keep your mind sharp, agile, and creative well into your golden years.

Research shows anyone can improve brain performance—and it's never too late to make changes to achieve your optimal brain health. While brain exercises certainly help, it's also vital to promote healthier living as a holistic way to support brain health. Staying Sharp For Dummies explains how keeping physically fit, eating right, managing stress, and even connecting with others helps give your brain the boost it needs to stay sharp—well into your golden years.

  • Build a better brain through nutrition, lifestyle changes, and brain workouts
  • Cope with a specific brain disorder, such as stroke, Dementia, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's
  • Stay sharp and improve memory and concentration
  • Access an online bonus chapter from Alzheimer's For Dummies and Dementia For Dummies

If you or a loved one are looking for authoritative, accessible guidance on staying sharp, this essential guide endorsed by the American Geriatric Society and the American Geriatric Society Health in Aging Foundation covers the gamut of lifestyle and activity changes that can maximize brain function and health.

Articles From Staying Sharp For Dummies

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47 results
Remember What You Read

Article / Updated 04-01-2022

Reading retention is a big issue in educational circles. Having the ability to read a sentence, pronounce all the words fluently, and have a vocabulary wide enough that doesn't necessitate referring to a dictionary is one thing. But having the ability to remember what you read is something else entirely. If you can't remember what you read, why read at all? If you want to make sure you retain what you read, try to use one or part of the various study systems developed by educators. Along with psychologists, they've been studying how people retain what they read for a long time. Learn from their experience! One of the oldest such systems is called SQ3R. (Many of these systems have names that make them appear more complicated than they really are.) The SQ3R system works like this: S = Survey the book. Q = Question. Generate questions based on your survey. R = Read the book. R = Recite the material. R = Review. To begin with, consider what you do when you open a nonfiction book you hope to be able to remember after you've completed it. If you simply barrel into reading it without looking it over, you may find yourself wondering what's coming up or not understanding how this body of knowledge is organized. Survey the book The first step in remembering what you read is to survey the material. Scan the book cover to cover. Read the dust jacket (if it has one) and the preface. Then read the acknowledgments section to get an idea of what the author went through to write the book, who the author was influenced by, and who made significant contributions. Scan the table of contents to see how the book is organized and how the chapters present the information. Read the chapter summaries and look at the graphs, pictures, and diagrams. This way, you learn a great deal about the subject before you actually read the book. In many ways, you've begun to glimpse the big picture that the book offers. This overview gives you a framework on which to hang the new information you gather as you read the book. Develop questions Generate questions based on what you saw in your scan of the book. These questions can provoke other thoughts about what you expect when reading further. Later, during the actual reading (remember, you haven't even begun reading yet), your questions may be answered as you begin to master the subject matter. If not, you can always find more books on the subject and read further to get more answers. Read the book The third step in the SQ3R system is to read everything. Don't skim. You can highlight or underline the important bits, such as the passages that answer the questions you formulated, as you go along. Don't underline or highlight too much. Not everything you read is intended to be a kernel of truth or the heart of the subject matter. When you go over the material later, you don't want to sift through page after page of over-underlined sentences, wondering why you went crazy with your pen. Remember that a highlighter should light up the high points. In addition to underlining, use vertical lines to the right or left of the text to indicate particular sections that are important. These sections elaborate upon the sections that you underline above or below the vertical lines. Use a double line to indicate that the section is particularly important. Many people do their underlining on the second reading to ensure that they don't underline points that don't end up being that important. If you don't have time for two readings, you can underline as you do your one read through the material. (Just don't let your highlighter get carried away and underline every word as you read it!) Recite the material After you finish reading the entire book, you can now move to the next step of the SQ3R system: reciting. Reciting the material can help you integrate, understand at a deeper level, and pull everything together. If you can explain the material to another person, you really do understand it. One advantage of teaching is that by speaking so much out loud, the teacher is forced to really know the material. In this way, teaching is learning. Spend as much time as possible on the material that you aren't quite sure about. As you do, you bring it into focus with the material you already understand and deepen your memory of it. Review main points and notes Your job isn't completely done yet. The next task is to review. Here's your chance to go over it all again. Make use of your underlined passages and highlight as review your notes. In fact, incorporating review into your reading process is always a good idea. After you read each section (even the first time through), review the main points in that section. Because most forgetting occurs soon after information is read, the reviewing step allows you the opportunity to really lay down those memories in a comprehensive way, inputting them into long-term storage.

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A Whole-Body Approach to Brain Health

Article / Updated 08-27-2021

The great news about the steps you can take to improve your chances of long-term cognitive health is that many of them are the same steps you take to keep your body healthy. You need to add just a couple of items to a list that's probably already familiar. And the new items are fun. Here's the familiar stuff: Reduce stress. If you've heard this advice from your doctor in relation to a physical condition, you now have double the reason to heed it. Research shows that stress causes synapses to malfunction. Long-term stress can cause a neurotransmitter (a chemical that carries messages between nerve cells) called glutamate to build up in your synapses. If enough of it accumulates, it can become toxic and interfere with your memory and your ability to learn. Get aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise can help you manage and resist stress, which is enough reason to make it part of your daily routine. But among its many other benefits, studies suggest that it stimulates the creation of new neurons and strengthens the connections between them. Eat a diet rich in antioxidant foods. If your physical health alone hasn't inspired you to stock up on blueberries and spinach, do so for your mental health. Foods rich in antioxidants may help counteract effects of free radicals in your brain. Free radicals are molecules that contain oxygen that attack cells throughout your body. They've been linked to cancer and heart disease as well as brain deterioration. Control high blood pressure and diabetes. A study published in the journal Neurology in 2001 showed that the mental abilities of participants with high blood pressure or diabetes declined more rapidly than those of other participants. High blood pressure is a risk factor for a condition called vascular dementia, in which a series of tiny strokes can affect memory and other cognitive abilities. Early diagnosis and tight control of high blood pressure and diabetes may help prevent some of the ill effects on your cognitive health. Get lots of mental stimulation Ahhh, this is where the puzzles come in — finally! You may be hard-pressed to find a scientist who would claim to know exactly how much mental stimulation the average adult of a certain age needs or what types of mental activities are best for a certain population. The science is fairly young, so you'll certainly hear a lot more about it in the years to come. But the general consensus is this: Mental stimulation of any kind can have positive effects on warding off memory problems and other declines in cognitive function, and lack of stimulation is a serious factor in mental decline. How should you use your brain to get the maximum results? Only you can answer that question. That's because whatever you do, it has to be enjoyable enough to truly stimulate you and to keep you coming back for more, day after day. It's a mental marathon, not a sprint, so go ahead and read War and Peace or pull out your old calculus textbook (but only if that's what you really want.) Otherwise, look for other types of activities that will keep you interested in the long term. (Anyone for Sudoku?) The bottom line: If there's a hobby you love that you haven't made time for in years, make time for it. If there's an activity you've been meaning to do but have put on the back burner because it seems less important than folding laundry, do it. If there's a subject you've been curious about for ages but haven't had time to study, study it. And if anyone (including your conscience) pesters you about how you're spending your time, memorize your new mantra: My brain needs me. Stay curious This is an extension of the preceding point: If you've buried your curiosity about the world around you because you haven't had time to explore it since childhood, now's the time — no matter how old you are or what your life circumstances are — to rediscover how curiosity feels. Whatever activities you choose to help keep your brain stimulated, you need to enjoy them enough to do them regularly. You can't get your body fit by working out three hours in a row and then ignoring your health altogether for two weeks (because you're so sore from the marathon workout that you can't move for the first five days!). You benefit much more from working out consistently for shorter amounts of time — for example, every day for 30 minutes or four days a week for 45 minutes each time. The same seems to be true of mental exercise. Your goal should be to make time for mental stimulation at least several days a week — ideally, every day. If you can't devote time to working a crossword every day, no problem. But don't let a month go by between mental workouts. You have to invest the time if you want the results.

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S-E-X: Why It May Help You Live Longer

Article / Updated 09-19-2018

Getting older and being sexually active aren't mutually exclusive. Sexual satisfaction is still possible at any age. Although age-related changes may necessitate some adjustments, where there's a will there's a way. For both men and women, physiological changes to the body make having sex a different experience as you age, but different doesn't mean worse; it just means adapting. After you understand what to expect sexually of yourself and your partner as you both get older, you see that sexual pleasure and intimacy don't have to fade over time. Sexual activity is good for . . . everything Sex certainly does have benefits. Regular and enthusiastic sex offers a host of measurable physiological advantages, probably more than anyone even knows. Sexual activity has positive effects on hormones, immune function, endorphins, and muscle strengthening; even if the effect is just a big smile on your face, sex does the body good. Take a look at these examples of what sex can do for the body: You live longer. Men who reported the highest frequency of orgasm lived longer than men who had less-frequent orgasms. You have a reduced risk of heart disease. Research shows that men who had sex three or more times a week reduced their risk of heart attack or stroke by half. You can get some exercise. A regular bout of sex burns around 50 calories — about the same as walking 15 minutes on a treadmill. The pulse rate in a person who's aroused rises from about 70 beats per minute to 150. However, don't substitute sex for other forms of exercise. You'd have to engage in sexual activity for many hours to achieve the same aerobic benefits as other options. You experience a sense of well-being. Levels of the hormone oxytocin increase during intercourse and in turn releases endorphins. Endorphins give you a sense of well-being and can even reduce pain because of their action on pain receptors. You get sick less. People who have sex weekly have higher levels of an antibody called immunoglobulin A, which can be important for the immune system when fighting infections. Recognizing the effects of aging on sex Normal aging isn't responsible for diminished sexual desire. Older people can still feel the need for sex. As long as a partner is available, regular sexual activity is as normal as it is during any other time during your life. Just because people get older doesn't mean that they don't believe that sex still contributes to their physical and psychological health and well-being. In most instances when people refrain from sex, it's not because of lack of desire but rather a functional problem that may be wrongly assumed to be uncorrectable. Many men feel that it's just inevitable that they'll have to jump in line to get erectile medication, while women assume that after menopause they'll need a firecracker under their derriere to get them interested in sex. Studies show that the physical capacity for male erection and male and female orgasm continue almost indefinitely, even if achieving orgasm is desired but not always achieved. Research reveals that people over the age of 55 still engage in the same varied sexual practices they did when they were younger, such as masturbation and oral sex, in addition to intercourse. However, age does bring physical changes that need to be taken into account and adapted to if you want your sex life to remain lively as you get older. Age-associated changes in men Biological and physiological changes in men can impact their sexual function. These changes include the following: A decline in levels of the hormone testosterone: Testosterone is the male sex hormone responsible for creating and releasing sperm, initiating sex drive, and providing muscular strength. Between the ages of 15 and 18, testosterone levels peak. By the time men reach their mid- to late-20s, testosterone levels start a slow decline. By the age of 40, some men notice a significant drop. At age 50, half of all men experience a significant reduction in testosterone levels, resulting in sexual side effects. For the majority of men with low testosterone levels, the major complaint is a diminished sex drive. Eighty percent of men who complain of a low libido also report the inability to maintain a strong erection. The duration of the refractory period: The refractory period is the length of time between ejaculations. As men age, this period of time increases. The refractory period varies widely among individuals over a lifetime, ranging from minutes to hours to days. When a man is in his youth, he may be able to ejaculate multiple times within the period of a few hours. As he ages, he may not be able to sustain an erection, let alone ejaculate, for as many as 24 hours after his previous orgasm. There are several reasons for this change. An increased infusion of the hormone oxytocin during ejaculation is believed to be chiefly responsible for the refractory period. The amount that oxytocin increases may determine the length of each refractory period. Another reason may be a decrease in the amount of blood flow to the penis from vascular disease, which is more common with age. Another chemical that could be responsible for the increase in the refractory period is prolactin. Prolactin suppresses dopamine, which is responsible for sexual arousal. Erectile dysfunction: One of the greatest fears for men as they age is erectile dysfunction. Fortunately for many, changes in lifestyle choices can eradicate the problem. Nearly half of men between the ages of 45 and 65 may have difficulty getting an erection or maintaining an erection sufficient for intercourse. The most common cause of erectile dysfunction are hormone deficiencies, poor dietary habits, lack of exercise, weight problems, uncontrolled or untreated high blood pressure, vascular disease, and diabetes. If you experience erectile dysfunction, talk with your doctor. It may indicate coronary heart disease or diabetes. Erectile dysfunction doesn't cause heart disease, but it may be evidence that the process of arterial blockage is occurring in other areas of the body. Age-associated changes in women Besides puberty, menopause (the termination of menstrual periods) is the most dramatic change that affects women sexually as they age. Menopause usually occurs between 42 and 56 years of age with the average age being 50. During menopause hormonal production diminishes, and the lining of the vaginal wall becomes thinner and more rigid. The production of vaginal lubrication drops, which can make intercourse uncomfortable and is a big reason that women lose interest in sex. However, many over-the-counter products aid in lubrication. If extra lubrication isn't effective, see your healthcare provider to consider prescription treatments. A woman's capacity to achieve orgasm can remain at near peak levels well into her senior years, even though it may take quite a bit longer to achieve. Menopause doesn't negatively impact a woman's desire or interest for sex. In fact, the freedom from worrying about unwanted pregnancy can be very liberating for post-menopausal women. Solving sexual problems together Both partners in a sexual relationship can experience sexual issues. The key to maintaining a positive relationship is to work together on challenges that arise. The following may help keep things hot as you get older: Lubrication: To help with vaginal dryness, decreased erection, or atrophied vaginal tissues, use a little lube, such as K-Y jelly. A little goes a long way to solve these problems. Patience: It's probably going to take a little longer to get things going — for both of you. Take the time to enjoy what you're doing — enjoy longer foreplay. Sex isn't a race, anyway. New underwear: Liven things up a bit. Ditch the granny panties and the tighty whiteys for something more visually stimulating and fun. You can always pretend that you're buying those thongs for a friend. Or shop online — no one will ever know. Sex toys: Don't be embarrassed; they sell these toys online now, and they may help by stimulating areas you didn't even know you had. Above all sex is supposed to be fun — let it be.

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Strive for Meaning Rather Than Rote

Article / Updated 09-10-2016

Rote learning is the regurgitation of unattached and meaningless facts. These facts are prone to be forgotten because you haven't incorporated them into a body of knowledge. You have no context in which to remember them. Unfortunately, too much of what's taught in school is still based on rote learning. Your job is to deepen the meaning of what you learn and put it in context so that you can remember it later. To have knowledge means that you understand the meaning of facts, how they're organized, and how they fit into what you already know about a particular subject area. Because the meaningfulness of information determines how well you remember it, rote memorization isn't exactly the best method of learning. (Maybe schools will someday realize this truth, too.) An example of rote learning would be to try to memorize the list of presidents in the preceding section without any association or memory cues. When you try to remember the list by factoring in meaning, you may consider, for example, that George Washington was the principal general who helped the colonies gain independence from England. In addition, the three presidents to follow were major contributors to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. How well the information that you're trying to remember is organized has a lot to do with the degree of its meaningfulness. So, the more meaningful the information is, the more likely you are to remember it. Having some interest in the subject matter that you're trying to commit to memory is helpful. This interest forms part of the meaning that you can attach to the information to help you remember it. For example, many people complain that they have little interest in mathematics, yet they're required to learn it nevertheless. You may say, "I'm no good at math." Your lack of interest or your self-paralyzing fear of math creates a self-fulfilling prophecy — you don't retain what you learn. If you're trying to remember something, you can always think around it. For example, suppose you're trying to remember who was the second president of the United States after Abraham Lincoln; Johnson succeeded him, but who came next? If you think around the question, perhaps you'll touch on Reconstruction and then move back to Lincoln. Perhaps you'll move back to the Civil War and then to the surrender at Appomattox. You begin to wonder which two generals were present. Robert E. Lee for the South, of course, and Ulysses S. Grant for the North. Hey, wasn't Grant later elected president? This chain of associations is like a series of links that you click as you surf the Internet. As you read about the Civil War on one page, you click on the blue hypertext word Appomattox. Then at that page, you click on word generals. These links are associations. They each focus on one topic, but they link and relate to similar topics and give you a broader knowledge base.

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Mental Gymnastics: Inflating a Shrinking Brain

Article / Updated 09-10-2016

As you age, you need to exercise your brain to prevent some of the natural shrinkage. Starting at age 50, your 3-pound brain gradually loses its volume in weight, so that, by age 75, it weighs roughly 2.6 pounds. A lot of the shrinkage in your brain is from a loss of water. Different parts of your brain lose their volume at different rates. Your frontal lobes — which serve as your executive control center, giving you your sense of judgment and allowing you to avoid blurting out rude and inappropriate comments — show the greatest amount of shrinkage compared to any other part of your cortex. The frontal lobes can shrink up to 30 percent between the ages of 50 and 90. Looked at another way, your frontal lobes lose 0.55 percent of their volume every year after age 50. As the frontal lobes shrink, you may lose some of your capacity to be in control — that is, you may be less inhibited about what you say or do. (Perhaps now you won't be as surprised by some of the rude comments that come out of your grandfather's mouth.) Your frontal lobes also play a big role in your ability to pay attention long enough to form short-term memories. If your frontal lobes do an inadequate job, they can make you prone to absentmindedness. As you age, you may become more apt to forget where you placed your keys or why you walked into a room. The frontal lobes are also responsible for verbal fluency (which is the ability to find the words you want when you want them) and executive function, which may also require more mental effort as the years go by. The second-most affected area is your parietal lobes. Because they control construction ability, coordination, and spatial orientation, these skills can also be affected, contributing to the increase in falls seen in older people. Your temporal lobes, which help you remember the gist of an experience, shrink up to 20 percent as you age. This means that your ability to remember what you hear and say falter as you get older. Your temporal lobes also have to try to interpret inadequate information coming in if your hearing is failing. To combat this shrinkage of your temporal lobes, you need to push them to be more active. To keep those lobes sharp, do the following: Engage in debate — participate in a political campaign or join a community group. Listen to lectures and audiobooks and discuss them afterward. A local book club is a great forum to keep your mind actively engaged and get social enjoyment simultaneously. Engage in discussion with your spouse, partner, and lifelong friends about memories you collectively hold. Call up your college friend and talk about old times. Intellectual activity like that has the same beneficial effect on the temporal lobes as pumping iron has on the biceps. (But don't worry — your head won't bulge out like a weightlifter's arms.) As you age, your hippocampus also shrinks. Between the ages of 50 and 90, it loses up to 20 percent of its volume. The levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine — critical for memory and active in your hippocampus — fall as you age and as your hippocampus shrinks. Your hippocampus is centrally involved in moving your short-term memories into long-term memories. The loss in volume of your hippocampus means that acquiring new memories may be a little more difficult compared to earlier in your life. However, the situation is far from hopeless. Your brain is highly affected by changes in your nutrition, so your job is to make sure that you have the best nutrition possible. Eat three balanced meals a day. Your occipital lobes — commonly referred to as the visual cortex — lose mass, too. The occipital lobes' ability to process visual information falters, but like your temporal lobes, they have to deal with inadequate information coming in. This lack of information to process is largely due to the deterioration of your optic nerve and retina. To keep your occipital lobes functioning well, do the following: Attend art and photo exhibits. Go on sightseeing trips. Share your pictures with friends and relatives. Use eyeglasses if you have them and update your prescription at least every other year with the help of your optician. Keep up with eye health through regular check-ups with your eye doctor. Because the occipital lobes are responsible for interpreting visual information, doing things that demand visual memory provides a good workout for the lobes. Keeping your neurons from shrinking The shrinking in your brain isn't due only to the loss of water. Your dendrites shrink, too, and have fewer branches and therefore fewer connections. Your dendrites form the part of your neurons that reach out to other neurons and draw in information. Fewer dendrites and dendrite branches mean less opportunity to think and for connections form memories from multiple channels. The more you challenge yourself intellectually, the more your brain develops new dendritic connections with other neurons. Your brain can make new dendritic connections throughout your life despite your age. One great way to fight the trend of memory loss is to learn new information, challenge yourself to branch out, and think in ways you haven't before. If you have more dendritic connections to start with, you experience less of an impact on your brain when you start to lose some over time.

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Make Full Use of a Vintage Brain

Article / Updated 09-10-2016

You don't know less in your old age; you know more due to your years of life experience. However, during your advanced years, your information-processing speed slows down a bit. But don't worry; your long-term memory remains intact, and your understanding of what you already know is broader, more thoughtful, and wiser than during your early adulthood. Here's more good news: You were probably taught in school that you have all the brain cells you'll ever have at the moment you're born, right? From then on (the lesson continued), you lose about 10,000 brain cells every day — and even more if you drink alcohol. Well, it turns out that this old wisdom isn't true. You do have an opportunity for dendrite growth. Dendrites are the part of your neurons that branch out to pick up information from other neurons. What you do with your brain determines what happens to it. Now, for the not-so-good news: Your brain's levels of neurotransmitters — and various hormones, such as melatonin, testosterone, and estrogen — do decline. Your arteries and capillaries grow less flexible and, in some cases, become clogged, hindering the flow of vital oxygen and nutrients to your brain. Uncontrolled stress and high blood pressure make matters only worse. Reducing stress, keeping the blood flowing As you age, you want to retain your power to learn and recall — and maybe even get better at those things if you can. If that's your agenda, here are three things to start doing today: Reduce your stress level. Control your blood pressure. Improve your blood circulation. Stress kills memory. High levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol, are destructive to your brain and decrease its ability to adjust to new learning and memory. As you age, the blood flow to your brain reduces, especially if your diet is high in saturated fats or if you drink alcohol or smoke. This reduction means that your neurons get less life-sustaining nutritional support. Your blood brings not only the glucose, which acts as fuel to your brain, but also the amino acids that are synthesized into neurotransmitters. The reduction in blood flow to your brain doesn't necessarily happen at the same pace in your neighbor down the street who's the same age. Despite normal aging changes, you do have some control over it. One of the best things you can do to keep your blood flowing is to exercise on a regular basis. You not only do your heart a big favor but also help clear out cholesterol from your arteries and increase the longevity of the elasticity of your arteries and capillaries. To minimize stress and keep the blood flowing, consider these tips: Exercise. Take regular walks, swim, bike, or work out in the gym — whatever fits your style. Join a yoga or meditation class. Eat a balanced diet. Keep the saturated-fat level low. Minimize consumption of alcohol. Moderate your caffeine intake. Don't smoke. Avoid high-stress activities. Learn and use relaxation techniques on a regular basis. Free radicals also begin to take their toll as you age. Free radicals break down tissue and kill cells. The main targets of free radicals in your brain are the myelin sheaths, the oily substance that covers your axons to improve conduction. Axons are the part of your neurons that send information. They help your neurons fire at maximum velocity. When free radicals eat away the myelin, your axons lose their conductivity. This lack of conductivity means your brain doesn't process information as quickly. Memories are both harder to form and harder to recall. Chronic stress increases hormones that then increase inflammation and worsen this free radical damage to your nerve cells. The other big targets of free radicals are your dendrites. Dendrites (like tree branches) are the part of your neurons that receive information from other neurons. Free radicals cause your dendrites to thin out (have fewer branches and therefore fewer connections), leaving your brain less able to process information in the ways it had before. You may find yourself forgetting jokes that you were once able to tell with great punch. One way to combat free radicals is to consume foods that are rich in antioxidants. Compensating for your graying senses Although vision and hearing issues often emerge as you get older, these changes don't have to be a burden like they did in years past. With the advent of wonders like eyeglasses, cataract surgery, large-print books, and hearing aids, folks today are much better off than their ancestors were when it comes to the eyes and ears. Of course, picking up important information is more difficult if your vision or hearing isn't in top working order. If you don't get all the information others get, you may remember less. Other people may misread your visual or hearing deficits as a decline in your overall intelligence. Do everything you can to keep your eyesight strong and your hearing acute so people don't get the wrong idea! Maximize your sensory ability by compensating for any problems you may develop: If hearing is the issue, see an audiologist and get a hearing aid if needed. Then use it. If your eyesight is the issue, see an optometrist to find out whether you need to wear glasses. The optometrist also screens your eyes and may refer you to an ophthalmologist (medical eye doctor) for treatment if you're developing cataracts, have increased eye pressure (signaling glaucoma), or if you have macular degeneration that needs medical attention.

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How Memory Changes with Age

Article / Updated 09-10-2016

The American Psychology Association has summarized the consistent memory change patterns that researchers identify in normal older adults compared to younger counterparts in the following categories: Episodic (what did I eat for supper last night?) Source (who told me that I should see that new movie?) Flashbulb (where were you when President Kennedy was shot?) Semantic (fact information) Procedural ("after you learn to ride a bike, you never forget") Episodic, source, and flashbulb memory decline the most with age, and semantic and procedural the least. Although these patterns have emerged through studies of healthy seniors, researchers emphasize that these changes show very different rates of decline and vary greatly among individual people. So what may be noticeable in Fred may not be an issue at all for George. Remember, everyone is unique, and aging changes in memory are no exception. As people age, their storage room for memories doesn't fill up as though they have only so much capacity available. Instead, memory changes seem to center in how people encode memories for storage and then retrieve the memories they've stored. Distraction from a memory task, such as because of a phone call, impacts encoding ability more. Slower retrieval processing may make it harder to remember names or dates. Despite these subtle changes, most older people are still able to competently take in new information, encode it, store it in long-term memory, and retrieve it when needed. Middle-aged folks may start to notice memory changes, but their sensitivity about such changes is worsened by society's constant comparison of everyone to the young as the pinnacle for mental ability. Researchers suggest that when identifying what is normal for a certain age, comparing yourself to healthy, age-matched peers is much more realistic and meaningful than comparing yourself to someone many years younger.

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Choose the Right Mnemonic

Article / Updated 09-10-2016

Not all mnemonic systems are equally effective for everyone. People are unique, and so are their needs and preferences. What you find useful as a mnemonic may be totally useless to your neighbor, and vice versa. Picking a mnemonic that works for you Choose the mnemonic that fits best with your experience. Doing so can increase your chances of remembering your memory-aid in the future. To use mnemonic aids effectively, make sure the mnemonic follows these basic principles: It gets your attention. It contains an easy association. It's organized in such a way that it's easy for you to remember. It's meaningful to you. Use mnemonic techniques that suit you personally. Each person's life experience is different, so people respond to images in their own ways. Consider the image of an onion dome on a Russian Orthodox church. The shape of that dome may symbolize a burning candle flame for a member of that faith and be associated with a candle lit in prayer for a family member. A person of another faith can look on the same dome and simply see an onion due to different life experiences. Mnemonics that grab your attention and make remembering fun are always more effective. If your mnemonic is stale and boring, you tend to forget it. Make the mnemonic stand out by making it silly, funny, absurd, or even titillating. Matching the mnemonic to what you want to remember If your mnemonic has little to do with what you're trying to remember, you'll probably forget it. For example, say that you're trying to remember that the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador have one of the widest ranges of unique animal species, including aquatic dragon lizards. The overall concept to remember is that the Galapagos Islands are a geographical location so remote that living species have evolved differently from others on the mainland. You may think of mnemonics like these: A knight fighting off a dragon just outside a medieval castle. You're trying to associate the dragon lizards on the Galapagos Islands with the image of castles and knights. Hmm — sounds like a tangent. Remember, you're trying to recall the Galapagos Islands, not the British Isles. A huge number of gallon containers with dragon lizards crawling out. With the word gallon, you have a link to the word Galapagos Islands, and you've added the lizards. Maybe you want to organize your imagery in such a way to carry a broader point — namely, that a wide range of other animals also live on the Galapagos Islands. To remember this, you may want to envision the gallon containers brimming over with a wide variety of creatures, not just the dragon lizards. Darwin's boat, the Beagle, anchored in the bay, and hundreds of gallons of containers on shore, brimming over with life. Make sure that there's personal meaning to the image you're trying to remember. If you're a history buff, an actual image from history (Darwin's boat) may work. Selecting a mnemonic that fits the situation Although the visual mnemonic route (the link system) can potentially carry much more than just one image, occasionally utilizing an image may be impractical in some situations. Visual mnemonics take much more time for you to develop than do peg, link, or story mnemonics. When you don't have a lot of time and need to develop a quick way to remember something important, using a peg may be wiser. For example, if you're listening to a lecture and don't have a notepad, you'll end up in the dust when the lecturer moves on to another subject while you're still trying to conjure up a visual image to help you remember the information later. One of the advantages the peg system has is that you can select individual items from a list, whereas the link system relies on a sequence of associations. However, the pegs depend on prememorized word connections. The loci system also requires some upfront work to memorize location-connected links. The more complex or abstract the noun, the more difficult it may be to associate with other words or ideas. The nouns are most useful in these mnemonic techniques if they're concrete nouns you can visualize. Whatever mnemonic system you use, make sure it's flexible and meets the demands of what you're trying to remember. Practice using mnemonics so you're be versatile. Mnemonics have a long history and have been used successfully all over the world for many years. Make them work for you.

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Tell a Story to Link Memories

Article / Updated 09-10-2016

Everyone loves a good story. You use stories as a way to learn, teach, and pass the time. You can also use stories to link information you want to remember. The link system: Remembering a list without paper and pencil The link system is a mnemonic technique that helps you link memories of serial-type information, such as lists of words. As the name implies, this system helps you link a chain of information to help you remember it. This system is sometimes called the chain method because your task is to chain together the items on the list like links on a chain. Suppose you have to run to the grocery store to buy food for dinner. You frantically open the glove box for a pad and pencil because halfway to the store, you realize you forgot your list. Alas, you find only a torn map, a crumpled candy wrapper, and the sunglasses you broke last week. For a moment, you forget what you decided to make for dinner. Then it comes to you as your stomach growls: You had decided to make fettuccini with clam sauce. Now you remember that you have to buy olive oil, fettuccini, parsley, garlic, clams, and Parmesan cheese. You decide to chain together the items into some kind of image that you're able to remember when you get to the store. A picture comes to mind of Uncle Fred (for "freduccini") sitting under an olive tree (olive oil) with parsley growing as high as grass. Uncle Fred is chopping garlic, grating Parmesan, and storing those ingredients in clamshells. As you walk into the market, that picture draws you into the entire chain, which links together the items on your shopping list. (Now all you have to do is remember how to cook it.) The story system: Weaving a story to recall a list The story system of mnemonics is similar to the link system in the preceding section but a little more elaborate. This technique requires more time than the link system. To use it, you develop a story about what you have to memorize by associating each item in the list with logical elements that form a story. Your story should weave together the list items in the order you want to remember them. Those items should connect with one another in a meaningful way as the story unfolds. That way, when you remember the story, you remember your list. The more ridiculous the story you create, the more memorable it is. The story system works best when the list contains abstract words that are harder to visualize. However, it's less effective than the link system for longer lists because it's more difficult to arrange a long list of items into a meaningful story than to link them together with basic associations. With the link system, you use primarily visual images, whereas you may not need them with the story system. But if you're able to develop visual imagery within your story, it's easier to remember. Visualization strengthens both these mnemonic techniques. Imagine that you've been awakened by a furious storm. When you go downstairs to make breakfast, you notice that the ceiling just above one of the window frames is leaking. You surmise that the storm, with its near-sideways pounding rain, tore up some flashing on the roof, allowing some rainwater to seep down into the wall. The water dripped all over the windowsill and onto the carpet. You check the garage for something you can use to plug the spot but find nothing suitable. You hop into the car to go to the hardware store and drive faster than you should through the flooded streets. As you drive, you think up a list of items to buy, but you have no pencil and paper. You come up with the following story to take with you into the hardware store: Mr. Moosely found that he was out of denture adhesive (caulking), so he used one of his finest steak knives (putty knife) to mince up dinner. But he worried that mashing up the minced food with his gums would result in food dribbling out of his mouth and onto his new shirt. Therefore, he took out a plastic bib (plastic sheet) that was left in his apartment the last time his young grandson was visiting. He realized that the bib was far too small, and he could hardly tie it around his neck. Mr. Moosely knew that if he used this small bib, food would fall onto the table or floor. He managed to find a rectangular container (drip pan) from the cabinet. It was only then that he was able to enjoy his minced meal.

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Hang Memories on Pegs

Article / Updated 09-10-2016

Word pegs are so named because you do just that — you peg a word to another word or number that's easier to remember. Pegs are "hooks" that you can use to hold the word you're trying to remember, just like a coat rack peg holds your jacket. By thinking of the peg word, you think of the word you want to remember. To put the peg system into action, try the following brain workout. The goal is to remember a list of ten words, in order. Sound hard? Don't worry, here's a hint: The pegs for remembering the words are the numbers one through ten. The words you need to recall appear in the following list. Slowly read through the list just one time, and, as you do, attach a number to each word, beginning with one: Sun Due Sea Door Hive Stick Heaven Gate Tine Hen Now, quick — cover up the list! Can you repeat the words in order? (No peeking!) Sure you can. The pegged word ties to the number. All you have to do is run through the numbers one to ten to remember the words. Each number is pegged to a rhyming word that you remember by association. This example uses phonetic or rhyming mnemonics. The rhyming words (one sun, two due) enable you to remember the list in order of the increasing numbers by looking at their sounds (phonetics) and rhyming with the numbers. This is a simple example, but you get the point: Peg words attach easily to the words you want to remember. Making the peg word rhyme with the target word makes this technique easy to use. For example, in "eight gate," the sound of the word gate gives you the clue you need. You can also use alphabet pegs to tie letters to words. The letter of the alphabet can be either a rhyme or just contain the letter within it. For example: A-acorn B-bee C-sea D-dog E-eel F-frog G-goat H-hut I-eye J-jay K-cake L-elf M-mate N-nut O-oh P-pea Q-cue R-ray S-star T-tea U-umbrella V-volt W-wheel X-axe Y-why Z-zebra You can use letter pegs by just tying your memory to the first letter of a word. A first-letter memory clue is quite economical because it narrows your search down to a letter. All you have to do is associate the first letter of a word with what you're trying to remember, such as using the acronym ROY G. BIV to remember the colors of the rainbow. Using the first letter of each color, you spell out this name, which makes remembering red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. You're pegging each color to a letter.

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